How to escape a college tutor's blackmail?
August 11, 2006 11:16 AM   Subscribe

How would one handle extortion/blackmail by a college "tutor" hired to do homework? My friend hired a guy from Craigslist to do her online course assignments -- Now he is threatening to email her teacher and spill the beans, unless she pays him an unreasonable sum.

Admittedly, the girl shouldn't have paid someone else to do her homework. But she's asked for my help in handling this situation. She paid a guy to complete her online assignments and email her the results, then she'd post them on the college site. At some point she inadvertently forwarded him a message containing her teacher's email address, and now he's attempting extortion. He'll tell the teacher she was cheating on assignments, unless she pays an additional amount.
posted by TreeHugger to Law & Government (94 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
And your friend didn't foresee this happening? What does she expect you to do? Either she pays the amount or she comes clean on her own to the teacher or she risks it and does nothing. I don't think there are any other options here.

If she continues to cheat, you may want to advise her that there are other avenues than Craiglist...
posted by meerkatty at 11:23 AM on August 11, 2006


Can she withdraw from the class? That seems like it would be the only way to avoid getting her academic career screwed over.
posted by Orrorin at 11:24 AM on August 11, 2006


Tell the teacher. She'll probably get an F for the course, but at least she's the one taking responsibility for her actions. If the guy she hired outs her then she has nothing at all going for her.

At some Colleges/Universities this could lead to an expulsion. Standing in front of a committee because you took responsibility looks a hell of a lot better than standing there because you had no choice.
posted by sbutler at 11:27 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


If she pays once, what, exactly, is to prevent the blackmailer from demanding that she pay again? And again? And again?

I'll answer that one myself, actually: nothing but her ability and willingness to keep paying.

Personally, I think I'd talk to the police. Blackmail, even this sort of petty blackmail, is illegal, and it seems likely this guy's done this sort of thing before.

A followup post to whatever craigslist board she found this guy on would also help to warn future "victims."

Alternately, she could have her three largest and most intimidating friends (I'm guessing that someone with the username "TreeHugger" probably doesn't fit the "intimidating" description, but I could be wrong-- maybe you're an Ent...) pay the blackmailer a visit, and suggest, without threatening violence of any sort, that his conduct may not be in his best interest.
posted by dersins at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Isnt blackmail/extortion illegal? Cant she threaten legal action or get the police involved in return? This definitely sounds like a situation that would blow up all over the internet and ruin the social life of the person doing the blackmail.
posted by skrike at 11:30 AM on August 11, 2006


Even withdrawing from the class wouldn't help your friend, I'm afraid. Universities have an academic honor code and your friend completely violated that regardless of whether she eliminates those grades/assignments from her record. I suppose she could withdraw from the class, confess to the teacher before the Craiglist guy calls her on it, and then approach the dean of the school to discuss the situation. If they are really sympathetic, she perhaps could be assigned a penalty and continue her degree.

I guess it will depend on the school. I would have been tossed at the unis I went to for this behavior, but it's worth a shot. Sorry...I just think this situation is hilarious. Craiglist....lol.
posted by meerkatty at 11:31 AM on August 11, 2006


Is the guy likely to have any way to prove he actually did these assignments for her? If not, it might be worth considering the claim that a bitter ex is trying to ruin her academic career by making unfounded accusations, or something similar. I've not thought about how you or she should go about making the claim look plausible, but it might give you somewhere to start.
posted by terpsichoria at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2006


Go to the police. That's the only answer to a blackmail attempt, ever. Any other course just tells the blackmailer you can be blackmailed, so he'll continue to blackmail you.
posted by orthogonality at 11:37 AM on August 11, 2006


Has he put this extoortion attempt in writing? If not, I would ask him to detail for you in an email what he is asking for and what you get in return.

Then take it to the police.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:40 AM on August 11, 2006


What proof does the blackmailer have?

The best strategy I would say, although it is immoral and not nice but it would be a premptive one.

A. Stall him for about 2 days until you can get the following done:

1. Make sure she knows her shit. Know and understand the cousework.

2. Sign up for 7 ~ 10 free email accounts through Tor.

3. Now in the style of the blackmailer email the teacher 7 ~ 10 different letters aleging pretty much the same thing, but write them differently about 7 ~ 10 students. So do a false tattle tale on 7 ~ 10 students. The key thing here is to make the letters look as different as possible so that one the blackmailer's letter comes in to the teacher it doesn't raise any *whoa this looks real* flags.

4. When you get called in, you are just another poor soul who is being picked on by a questionable online character.

5. Check those email boxes and respond back... make sure all communication styles are as close to the blackmailers as possible.
posted by bigmusic at 11:41 AM on August 11, 2006 [13 favorites]


What proof does the blackmailer have?

Presumably he has copies of all of her work...
posted by puffin at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2006


Extortion is a crime. Report him to the police immediately.
posted by evariste at 11:47 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Skrike: While blackmail/extortion is illegal, paying someone to complete academic assignments is also illegal in some US states. It's not equally illegal (paying someone to do your schoolwork is, for example, a class B Misdemeanor in CT,) but it would still end up with legal penalties for her.

I don't really see a good way out for her. Like some of the others have said, she should probably prepare for expulsion - going to the cops will likely still make her liable for her actions.

IIANL, but I am a former TA at a state university that saw its fair share of this nonsense.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:52 AM on August 11, 2006


If its a stalemate, isnt he bluffing?

All she has to do is say "No. And I hope you're not extorting me because then I would be compelled to turn you into the police." to his demands and understand she may have to live with the consequences. But, that may be enough to make him back down. Most likely, he is looking for easy targets.
posted by vacapinta at 11:52 AM on August 11, 2006


bigmusic writes "Now in the style of the blackmailer email the teacher 7 ~ 10 different letters aleging pretty much the same thing, but write them differently about 7 ~ 10 students. So do a false tattle tale on 7 ~ 10 students. "

3a. Pay a big retainer to an attorney to defend you in 7-10 libel cases. Man, bigmusic, this is a classic of terrible advice.
posted by orthogonality at 11:54 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Definetly go to the police. Some juristictions even have laws to protect the release of blackmailing information in these circumstances. Even if the relevant one doesn't it may be possible to get an injunction against the blackmailer stopping them contacting the victim or anyone connected with them - which would have the same effect. Even if that isn't possible they shouldn't let the blackmailer get away with it - the demands will only continue and increase.
posted by prentiz at 11:55 AM on August 11, 2006


As someone who teaches online, I am absolutely delighted by this turn of events. Pleased as punch. Tickled pink.

That out of my system, your friend has two choices: 1. Pay, or, 2. Come clean with the professor and go to the police about the extortion. I vote the second. She should email the professor and say "I am withdrawing from your course effective immediately. I am sorry to say that I turned in work that was not my own and violated your trust and the honor code of this institution." Then contact the registrar and withdraw. As a professor, I can tell you there is a 90% chance that her professor will let it drop right there, without pursuing academic charges against her. Then go the police.

Could you let us know how this turns out?
posted by LarryC at 12:03 PM on August 11, 2006 [3 favorites]


One thing she could do is go to the teacher's office and say that she got romantically involved with a tutor, had a messy break-up, and now he's trying to get revenge on her by saying he did the work. With this story it would not be unreasonable for him to have copies of her assignments ("I emailed him the paper so I could call and ask for his help on #34" etc.), she can play off forwarded emails as conterfeit, and, depending on the teacher, can turn on the waterworks for extra sympathy. Then it ends up being a case of he-said-she-said and the teacher will likely have to let it go due to a lack of conclusive evidence either way.

But she had better toe the line after that. The teacher will be watching her, as will her other teachers, you can be sure, and she will no longer get the benefit of the doubt. Time for her to do her own work, now.
posted by internet!Hannah at 12:05 PM on August 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


3a. Pay a big retainer to an attorney to defend you in 7-10 libel cases. Man, bigmusic, this is a classic of terrible advice.

I said it was immoral. But if she uses Tor to do it, there is very little chance of her getting caught. By very little, I mean that she would have to write her name in the email itself for her to get caught, or prove that she did it.
posted by bigmusic at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2006


One thing she could do is go to the teacher's office and say that she got romantically involved with a tutor, had a messy break-up, and now he's trying to get revenge on her by saying he did the work. With this story it would not be unreasonable for him to have copies of her assignments ("I emailed him the paper so I could call and ask for his help on #34" etc.), she can play off forwarded emails as conterfeit, and, depending on the teacher, can turn on the waterworks for extra sympathy. Then it ends up being a case of he-said-she-said and the teacher will likely have to let it go due to a lack of conclusive evidence either way.


That'd work except if the tutor saved voicemails, email correspondance regarding the paper writing etc. You know, evidence.

Your friend is likely going to have to stand up to the guy or come clean with the prof or both.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:07 PM on August 11, 2006


Bigmusic has a plan. But it's a complicated one, and complicated plans have a way of falling apart.

One flaw in the scheme is that the teacher (or school) will be obligated to contact every person alleging that they helped a student cheat, this includes the real blackmailer. Since you can't predict how he will respond you can't plan for everything.

One other flaw is that there is, presumably, some kind of evidence on Craigslist itself that will corroborate the real blackmailers story but not the stories of the fake blackmailers.

And finally, a general flaw in many pieces of advice, teachers are very very good at spotting inconsistencies in work. If she tries to argue that she really did do the work and that the blackmailer is lying, the teacher can relatively easily quiz her. Even if she learned the material it is unlikely that she could replicate the writing style and diction of the tutor closely enough to fool the teacher.

I'm reminded of the old saying "Don't to the crime if you can't do the time." You friend did something wrong and is about to get in a world of trouble for it. She should have foreseen this possibility, and she should be willing to take responsibility for her actions.

I think she should report him to the police and deal with the academic consequences. (Going to the police will also keep this jerk from blackmailing others.)

I can say this, teachers (I am one) if they are inclined to be lenient with cheater at all, are usually more likely to be lenient with students who admit their guilt when caught. Being an unrepentant cheater is so much more galling than just cheating.
posted by oddman at 12:09 PM on August 11, 2006


internet!Hannah writes "One thing she could do is go to the teacher's office and say that she got romantically involved with a tutor, had a messy break-up, and now he's trying to get revenge on her by saying he did the work. "

By lying about the revenge of an ex, she makes it all the more difficult for women who really do have stalking, revenge-seeking exes to be taken seriously.
posted by orthogonality at 12:15 PM on August 11, 2006 [4 favorites]


Come clean, grovel and hope she catches the teacher on a good day.

Don't pay the guy. Do tell the teacher before he can.
posted by starman at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2006


That out of my system, your friend has two choices: 1. Pay, or, 2. Come clean with the professor and go to the police about the extortion. I vote the second. She should email the professor and say "I am withdrawing from your course effective immediately. I am sorry to say that I turned in work that was not my own and violated your trust and the honor code of this institution." Then contact the registrar and withdraw. As a professor, I can tell you there is a 90% chance that her professor will let it drop right there, without pursuing academic charges against her. Then go the police.

What LarryC said. Pursuing a plagiarism case is difficult for all concerned, and most profs, in my experience (and I was involved in a plagiarism case which was fully prosecuted) would much rather deal with a late withdrawal than with a case of plagiarism any day. Your friend should cut her losses, dump the course, and come clean.

Then go to the police, yeah. Or at least tell the extortionist that she will if he doesn't back off, and see if he does.

And then never, ever do this again.
posted by jokeefe at 12:17 PM on August 11, 2006


Oh, and one more thing: any action she takes at this point other than coming clean will get her into a world more trouble when her story or attempt to wiggle out of the situation fails, as it invariably will. If she lies and tries to make up stories to explain the whole thing, the truth WILL come out: and then she'll almost certainly face expulsion instead of just an F on her transcript.
posted by jokeefe at 12:20 PM on August 11, 2006


She shouldn't pay the guy, no matter what. I think it's a little early to go to the police, also, because that will take the matter out of her hands and preclude the following course of action.

I think a young person could go to a teacher, doesn't have to be the one for the class, just one that she knows and that thinks well of her, and confess that she made a huge mistake, and ask the teacher for guidance. She might get failed, she might get expelled, but then again she might just get an incomplete until she takes the class again. It mostly depends on whether there are any other faculty that might be willing to suggest one course of action over the other based on their knowledge of her character.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 12:23 PM on August 11, 2006


This is pretty awesome.

That said, she should come clean to the teacher and accept an F/withdrawal from the course. Then do her own goddamn work in the future.
posted by schroedinger at 12:26 PM on August 11, 2006


bigmusic, I don't see how your scheme prevents the blackmailer from simply emailing the teacher with copies of the cheater's drafts. When the teacher replies with requests for copies of homework of the other 7-10 suspect students, the blackmailer just replies that it was just the one.

I doubt this extortion scheme was dreamed up overnight. Very likely the tutor had this planned all along and as such probably already has "escape routes" planned. Best advice is LarryC's - take the withdrawal and make a honest and humble apology. Most teachers aren't in it to screw over their students as long as they're forthcoming.
posted by junesix at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2006


In addition to reporting him to the police, I would make a call to the IRS and the state attorney general. Presumably, your friend is not this guy's only customer. He probably makes a pretty decent living selling his services and I doubt that he (a) has a business license or (b) has ever declared this income on his taxes.

If your state has a sales tax on services, I doubt that he's ever filed a return for those either, and your state revenue office will be interested in that as well.

These tax-related things probably won't land him to jail, but they will cause some inconvenience and a little bit of stress. And the fines will hit him in a spot that he seems quite fond of - his wallet.
posted by jknecht at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2006


Another vote for throwing yourself at the mercy of the instructor. As a professor, I would be lenient just for the opportunity to assist in nailing the blackmailer.
posted by Wet Spot at 12:54 PM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


I would vote for the counter extortion. I'd Let him know that if he gets me thrown out of school, I can dedicate my entire life, and energy to making his a living hell.
posted by Megafly at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2006


orthogonality: "By lying about the revenge of an ex, she makes it all the more difficult for women who really do have stalking, revenge-seeking exes to be taken seriously."

And by cheating the poster's friend makes it all the more difficult for people honestly trying to come by their degree. If she doesn't care about not undermining the academic process, why should she care about undermining women's rights? It's a ballsed up situation all around. I'm just trying to offer suggestions that aren't just reiterations of "quit the class" or "call the police".

jerseygirl: "That'd work except if the tutor saved voicemails, email correspondance regarding the paper writing etc. You know, evidence."

Voicemails, yeah, but emails can be faked and altered farily easily. It's enough to cast a shadow of doubt on accusations based entirely on emails, which is what I gathered the situation was from the original post. I could be wrong, though.
posted by internet!Hannah at 1:04 PM on August 11, 2006


If she's absolutely sure the nature and extent of the evidence this guy has is restricted to stuff that could have been fabricated, she could deny everything and turn it into a he said she said coin toss. But really, how sure can she be?
posted by juv3nal at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2006


Bad situation. There is not much one can do if the tutor spills the beans. The consistency issue mentioned upthread is the major reason why. All the falsehood and evasion in the world is not going to allow for much wiggle room when asked to produce material on par and style with what went previously. Unless she can write in the manner the tutor did, the rest of her coursework is going to be strikingly different then what occurred before. That in of itself is going to be an obstacle to get over even if the blackmail does not come to light.
Withdraw, ask for an incomplete. Make the offer never to do online work again, admit the mistake/fuckup, offer reasons why trust should be extended. And she absolutely needs to do her own work from now on. Bad situation.
posted by edgeways at 2:03 PM on August 11, 2006


She should tell him she is going to the FBI. If he is a rational player, this will prevent him from doing anything further because actually following through on his threat would remove any question that it was a prank or a joke or anything like that, and thereby make it much more likely prosecutors would take the case.

I don't think she should go to the teacher or the school; this is one of the areas in our society where the punishments far outweigh the crime, in my opinion.
posted by jamjam at 2:07 PM on August 11, 2006


Empathize if you must, but tell her to take the F--she knows she deserves it. If it seems harsh, there are a lot of people who would happily take her place in college. People who wouldn't cheat.

No sympathy for the privileged.

Oh, and don't trust her for a long time.
posted by Phred182 at 2:09 PM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


I agree with everyone when I say your friend has done something wrong and deserves punishment. Universities these days are very clear on their policy towards plagarism, and for example at my school it will result it an automatic expulsion (which makes it very hard for you to ever go to a decent school again).

But: It's fun to try and figure a way out of it. I think the best approach is the one outlined above, but it requires real brass balls. Stare the guy down and tell him that if he goes to the teacher, she will go to the cops. Lay it out simply; I get expelled, but you go to jail. The police will find other people you've done this to, so the penalty will be stern. More likely he will just get a fine and the police won't spend a whole lot of time trying to find other victims since they brought it upon themselves, but you don't have to mention that to him.
posted by kfx at 2:27 PM on August 11, 2006


In fact, I would give 95% odds the 'tutor' will do nothing if she simply ignores his threats and just stops responding to his E-mails at all. In that case, he has absolutely nothing to gain by following through, and his livelihood and years of his life to lose, particularly since this is probably a pattern with him, and any investigation could expose enough crime to really make it worth putting him away for awhile, and could even generate some nice publicity for a sharp D. A.
posted by jamjam at 2:31 PM on August 11, 2006


Some sympathy for the ex-privileged, however.
posted by Phred182 at 2:31 PM on August 11, 2006


Thanks to everyone for the thoughts on this. I will post an update in a week or so.

First off, I am not condoning my friend's behavior. I'm an impartial observer in all this, and merely want to offer some semblance of reasonable advice. I do think that she deserves whatever result happens from this. It's more of an interesting mental challenge for me than anything else, a puzzle of sorts.

One friend suggested an approach similar to bigmusic's idea, except that all the emails would be spoofed from the tutor's account. Each email would accuse a different student of cheating by hiring him, each using different wording. This would work if the teacher got annoyed and simply blocked the email address, but if the teacher replied and started a dialogue then the truth would likely come out. Also, doing this would raise a lot of red flags and suspicions in the teacher's mind; if he has any interest in punishing this behavior he would probably do his best to get to the bottom of it.

I actually think she should pay the guy off and hope for the best. He's not asking for all that much; it's in the hundreds of dollars, but it's just a lot for a struggling student. If he tries to extort further, then admit guilt, threaten to go to the authorities, etc.
posted by TreeHugger at 2:43 PM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Jamjam, people do make mistakes, and young adults shouldn't be crushed for life because of youthful mistakes. BUT this woman is an adult, and the rules here are pretty clear. Paying someone to do your schoolwork for you is just obviously wrong. There are a lot of areas in life where people rationalize lying and cheating -- I see this increasingly in my students' attitude toward cheating. Many people want to break the rules when the rules are inconvenient for them, but they still expect others to play by the rules of fairness when the rules are on their side. (See current US politics.) She wanted to do something unethical, but she wants everyone else -- namely this guy she hired -- to obey the laws of ethics. I find it hard to be sympathetic; the best I can hope for her is that this is a lesson about why ethical rules exist, rather than a lesson about how to cheat more effectively. Hiring someone to do your schoolwork for you is both counterproductive and deeply, deeply dishonorable.

As for the (good) suggestions that she call the authorities, if this guy is smart at all, she may not know enough actual info about him to be able to call the police on him. He will know this and see through bluffs.

She should definitely withdraw from the course. Depending how far along in the semester it is, she may be able to do this without offering an explanation to the instructor. Once she tells the guy she has withdrawn, his incentive to turn her in may be lower; but of course it may not be.

Once she has decided to withdraw, there are four scenarios:
1. She doesn't confess, the guy doesn't turn her in.
2. She doesn't confess, the guy does turn her in.
3. She does confess, the guy doesn't turn her in.
4. She does confess, the guy does turn her in.

Scenario 1 is good. She just has to re-take the class.

Scenario 2 is the nuclear one, where at best she will face disciplinary hearings, intense scrutiny for the rest of her time at school and an F (rather than a W) on her transcript. At worst, suspension or expulsion, and a difficult time getting into another school.

Scenarios 3 and 4 probably have similar outcomes. (If she confesses and tells the guy that she confessed, he will have little incentive to try to turn her in, so she may be able to remove scenario 4.) She goes to the prof -- or if the prof is a real hardass she goes to a more sympathetic prof or dean of students and asks them to be her ally as she goes to the prof -- and explains that she handed in someone else's work as her own, that she now regrets this and wants to put things right.
Best case scenario here is really good: she may not need to withdraw. The prof might let her make up all of the coursework, maybe in exchange for giving her a reduced but still better than F grade in the course. Most profs I know would try to work out something like this, especially if she has done okay on exams, or has shown any genuine interest or any redeeming qualities at all. (She should not be the one to suggest this. She should own up, accept that the penalty may be severe, but ask what she has to do to put things right. Let the prof come up with the merciful option.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:48 PM on August 11, 2006


I meant, scenarios 3 and 4 probably have similar outcomes to each other, not similar to scenario 2.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:52 PM on August 11, 2006


So she pays the guy off, and he says he's still going to turn her in unless she pays an extra $X. It's a recursive cycle, don't be foolish in believing he'll stop.
Her best option is to withdraw from the course and explain herself to her teacher, and pray that the teacher doesn't decide to continue with plagirism charges.
Think about your logic for a second, if she pays the guy off and he continues extortion attempts, she'll have to fess up eventually. But then she's down the money AND her education. Might as well just keep the money and her integrity, or what's left of it at least.
posted by Meagan at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2006


wow. what a thread-

just wanted to add another angle- tell the blackmailer that you fessed up to the teacher and he can go jump in the lake... but that you would give him $50 to bugger off- or you'll go to the police.

and really not fess up....
posted by Izzmeister at 3:26 PM on August 11, 2006


Don't do anything.... have her do the rest of the assignments herself and tell the "tutor" to bugger off. Even if he does talk to the teacher, and turn show her assignments to the instructor there is no way he can prove that he just didn't find them on a lost thumb drive in the library.

This would purely be a case of he said, she said. If she is in good standing with the University, with no prior offenses, the school will be on her side. Worst case, she gets probation.

Hopefully, though, she as learned her lesson.
posted by blueplasticfish at 4:08 PM on August 11, 2006


I wouldn't be in her shoes but if I were in shoes and I were morally flexible I would pay the guy and transfer to another school as soon as possible. She's lost this one and it's going to cost her some money. The only ways to unlose this situation involve someone harder, smarter, or more powerful than the blackmailer being interested in helping your friend and I'm guessing that motivated someone doesn't exist for your friend.

Unless your friend chooses the honest confession route then threatening to go the police will be seen by the blackmailer as a completely empty threat. Even if the police were interested in doing something about the blackmail they have no reason to protect your friend.

Treehugger, you might also think about the meaning of friendship and what it means if your friend expects anything more of you than asking metafilter for clever outs. Your friend might want to learn to solve her own problems.
posted by rdr at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2006


Is doing assignments for someone else also illegal? I'm surprised there would be no penalty for intentionally assisting someone in the crime of turning in false work (and accepting money for it). Even without this, though, the risk to the blackmailer is more than several hundred dollars.

Fancy schemes are fun to read about but bad strategies in real life, especially where the authorities will have to make a judgment of your friend's honesty. Things fall apart. Chances are a determined blackmailer will find a way to provide sufficient evidence, no matter how elaborate the story.

Out of personal dignity and moral considerations, I would come clean. Better this than to have the specter of this hang over your friend for the rest of her life (remember, even if this guy doesn't do anything immediately, he still can make the accusation years later and have your friend's degree revoked). Would you really want someone to have the power to screw up your professional life at their fingerprints for the rest of their life? If your friend becomes successful in any way, the guy just has more ammo and will do it again.
posted by lunchbox at 5:04 PM on August 11, 2006


Pay him. Learn a lesson. Then, where he's concerned, get your money's worth in...other ways.

1) State income tax board - always a good start in guys who deal in cash.
2) Local TV News reporters - Find the Ric Romero of your area and clue him into the scam of Craigslist guys doing academic work for cash. A juicy internet scam story? Reporter boy will sting him for you and hopefully your state's crime penalties will come into play. If he moves or goes in the pokey, you're clear.
3) Internet fraud - There are a number of bureaus on the local level that look into this. Tip them off.

The point is, this is eliciting a hell of a response from us here on metafilter. The general population and the agencies that rep them will be just as interested for their own reasons. A few anonymous tips from you with disposable email accounts and whatnot will end up giving your extorter a world of hurt.
posted by rileyray3000 at 5:21 PM on August 11, 2006


I'm sorry, but the continuing almost unbelievably naive answers which suggest that the extortionist has some incredible ineluctable power over the OP's foolish friend would be out of place even in The Perils of Pauline or the most florid gothic novel. What in the world are they doing in this thread?

The extortionist will not contact the teacher or anyone else in authority because to do so would expose him to prosecution and because to do so cannot possibly have any material benefit for him whatsoever!

The Mafia didn't burn down the shops of those who didn't pay protection out of sheer meanness, machismo, or because they were men of their word, they did it to intimidate the others-- a motive which this extortionist lacks from any point of view.

I understand commenters' discomfort with the behavior of the OP's friend-- it's hard to believe that the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. could have gotten there without a lot of this kind of thing-- but that cannot begin to excuse the wholesale abandonment of rational thought I see here.
posted by jamjam at 5:58 PM on August 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


Man, some of you are absolute crap at telling lies.

One friend suggested an approach similar to bigmusic's idea, except that all the emails would be spoofed from the tutor's account. Each email would accuse a different student of cheating by hiring him, each using different wording.

This idea won't work, so don't even try. For one thing, the blackmailer will have very specific information (namely, the papers themselves) at their disposal. Will your friend have actual papers of the people they plan to "spoof" blackmail? Not likely. With your friend's great luck, she'll inadvertantly call herself into question without the blackmailer having to lift a finger.

Also, the jilted lover lie won't work either. Does she have any proof, whatsoever, that she and the blackmailer were an item? Does she know enough about the blackmailer to actually pretend like they dated for a time? Do they even live in the same state? This is such a bad lie, and so rife with complications, that I can't believe anyone mentioned it.

Let's look at what you've got: Person X (your friend) and Person Y (the blackmailer) both have the same paper in their possession. How can you explain this? Here are a couple of options:
  • The "lesser-of-two-evils" approach: your friend does nothing and waits. If her professor gets the email, she claims that, in fact, she had sold her papers to someone online who said they'd pay top dollar for college-level term papers. She must have included her prof.'s email address in one of them.
  • The "just-a-tutor" approach: Your friend claims that she was seeking the assistance of a tutor online. She finds the blackmailer, and this person helps her polish up her papers for a time. She would send him drafts, he would email back with suggestions or corrections. Then, out of the blue he demands money or he'll claim he, in fact, wrote the papers himself!
Either way, your friend is going to have to learn the material backwards and forwards, as well as learn to mimic the writing style of the voice in the papers if they have any thoughts of pulling this off, though you have a little bit of wiggle-room with the second option.

And I pray your friend doesn't make the mistake of thinking that if they just ignore it the blackmailer will go away. It's all too easy to send an email these days, particularly an anonymous one. She could counter-threat the blackmailer by telling him she'll go to the cops, but I don't think it would be worth it. He'll likely just get a slap on the wrists, meanwhile your friend will be banned from reputable institutions of higher learning. Not a good trade-off.

She could try dropping the course and approaching the professor with the truth, though the reality of the situation is that a failed class hurts more than a dropped class, so it would be "better" (that is to say, more honorable) to take a failing grade.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:14 PM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or is everyone assuming that the blackmailer is located geographically near the blackmailee?

There's no reason to assume that. Anyone can read Craigslist after all.

If he's in Norway or New Zealand good luck with those "tell the state tax authorities" or "get him on the local news" ideas.

But anyway, whatever else you do, don't pay him. All you do is confirm you've got access to money and you're scared.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:21 PM on August 11, 2006


The Mafia didn't burn down the shops of those who didn't pay protection out of sheer meanness, machismo, or because they were men of their word, they did it to intimidate the others-- a motive which this extortionist lacks from any point of view.

...sending one anonymous email to a prof. is a lot easier and less risky than burning down a building, though, regardless of motivation. Would you bet your academic career on the guy not talking?
posted by starman at 6:49 PM on August 11, 2006


It seems like doing nothing would work, unless the Extortionist is an idiot.

What if your friend said this to the thug: "Go ahead and report me to the prof. I guarantee she will call the police and have your ass arrested and your bail and court costs will probably be more than what you will get from me. Seems like by forgetting about this, you come out ahead."

Honestly, this thug calling a prof and admitting to extortion is like calling the police and saying, "Officer! My drugs were stolen!"
posted by 4ster at 8:02 PM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Is it just me or is everyone assuming that the blackmailer is located geographically near the blackmailee?

OK, I am clearly one of those people, so my previous comments should be taken with a grain of salt.
posted by 4ster at 8:05 PM on August 11, 2006


What kind of online homework was it? If it was something like chemistry or physics, the assignments likely contained only multiple choice and exact answer questions. No "style" would be evident in the answer. Your friend would have to learn how to work the problems, though...

Is this class even in session anymore? Was this a summer session class that is now over?
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 8:40 PM on August 11, 2006


Everybody makes mistakes. The key here is not to make another one. First determine if the bad guy will really turn your friend in. If your friend truly believes this, than she should meet with the professor, explain how she screwed up, and suffer the consequences.

I very very much doubt that the professor and the University would spend their time prosecuting someone who is humble and apologetic and has learned. Sure, she may fail the course, but she won't get kicked out / screw up the rest of her life. Colleges and Universities are a business, if they kick you out they can't take your money any more. But, if they make you do another semester ($$$)....

At the same time, make sure to take the bad guy down (if he is in the US).
posted by maxpower at 10:09 PM on August 11, 2006


"Honestly, this thug calling a prof and admitting to extortion is like calling the police and saying, "Officer! My drugs were stolen!""

You don't watch COPS, do you? It happens. Then again, they are on drugs...
posted by CrayDrygu at 10:12 PM on August 11, 2006


I change my answer to Civil_Disobedient's. That's probably the best route.
posted by bigmusic at 10:24 PM on August 11, 2006


The first thing I thought of to abate the situation would be to joe-job the professor's email address from the blackmailer's. This would hopefully trigger some spam filters on the prof's end and send the blackmail notice silently away with the Nigerian Royal Family and V1aggr4 emails. You'd have to be somewhat sophisticated about this attempt, writing some scripts and jumping through hoops not to be caught, but it might work...

I would tend to agree with the "do nothing but learn your lesson" school of thought outside of hypothetical technical approaches.
posted by maniactown at 10:37 PM on August 11, 2006


Isnt blackmail/extortion illegal? Cant she threaten legal action or get the police involved in return? This definitely sounds like a situation that would blow up all over the internet and ruin the social life of the person doing the blackmail.

Yes, it's entirely illegal. And cheating in class is not illegal. The extorter could face serious jail time, while the girl might have to re-take the class (or switch collages depending on where she's going)
posted by delmoi at 3:16 AM on August 12, 2006


Honestly what I think would be the best thing to do would be to dig up a bunch of news articles about high-profile extortion cases, especially where the victim did something wrong or illegal as well. Let him know that what he's doing is a felony and could literally end him up in jail. Tell him that she'd much rather see him rot in prison then pay.

He'll get the message. He's not going to risk going to jail over however much he's asking for, if he realizes it's a possibility.
posted by delmoi at 3:24 AM on August 12, 2006


If you really want to scare him, hire a lawyer to call him and intimidate him with lawsuits and so forth.
posted by delmoi at 3:26 AM on August 12, 2006


I'd just like to repeat vacapinta's eminently sensible reply:

All she has to do is say "No. And I hope you're not extorting me because then I would be compelled to turn you into the police." ....that may be enough to make him back down. Most likely, he is looking for easy targets.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:32 AM on August 12, 2006


On a purely risk-benefit basis, I think the preemptive confession route is a bad bet. She'd be guaranteeing anything from a moderate penalty on her part (failing) to severe (being kicked out of school). And I think that given the current academic context on this matter, the latter is far more likely than the former. Of course, she knows best what the actual policies are at her school. But I think some comments above which describe possible or likely lenience are misleading. A particular instructor might be inclined to leniency; but he/she may feel obligated to inform her peers or superiors and their likeliehood of feeling inclined to leniency will be much, much less. And if other faculty/staff are aware of this, there may be policies which simply exclude leniency.

Paying the blackmailer off is probably the best bet, assuming that she'd bite the bullet on any further attempts to blackmail and go to the police if that happens. (Write a check or use some other traceable means to pay the blackmailer off. If he tries a second time, the police will have the means to get to him and he'll know it.)

The middle-route is to simply refuse and call his bluff. If she does this, she should not mention the police or be provocative in any way. She should simply ignore the blackmailer or refuse to pay. Threatening the blackmailer with the police or otherwise provoking him only increases his motivation to follow-through, especially if he thinks he is not likely to get caught. And if he's in another jurisdiction or otherwise hard to track down, he well may be right in thinking he's unlikely to get caught. If he's a pro, he may be right in thinking he's unlikely to be caught.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:50 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


Honestly, this thug calling a prof and admitting to extortion is like calling the police and saying, "Officer! My drugs were stolen!"

No, because the extortionist does not have to reveal his identity in tipping off the professor. Just a message from a throwaway email account, a paragraph of explanation, and the assignments attached. Five minutes of his time. Don't bet the farm that he won't do it.

Clarification: Does your friend know the real identity of the tutor?
posted by LarryC at 7:27 AM on August 12, 2006


This guy isn't going to tell the teacher. There's no reason for him to, he can't get the money if he does. He's bluffing, I'd call his bluff then deny everything if it ever comes up.
posted by geoff. at 8:15 AM on August 12, 2006


Vacapinta's the best answer by far, though a lot does depend on the sort of class this is.
The one online class I took, all of the homework and exams were taken from a pool of multiple choice questions that existed in "practice" form on the web. I could have seperate tabs open where I went through and "practiced," then plunked down the answers one after another. Even the occassional short answer questions were just regular multiple choice questions with the answers removed. If her class is like mine, there's absolutely no way to prove that she cheated (though I couldn't imagine needing a tutor for it).
If it's an English class, where real, individual writing and analysis has to happen, well, there's more of a chance. But I'd still say that she's best off replying that she's not going to pay and would go to the police if threatened (where they both lose). She already has to know who this tutor/blackmailer is— she's been paying him. If she knows, then it's easy for the police to find out.
posted by klangklangston at 8:42 AM on August 12, 2006


It's almost certainly worth paying once. If he asks a second time, it's probably safe to assume that he's just going to keep asking and she'll have to move on to one of the other options. Also, how has she been paying him? If she can be confident of tracing the guy a threat of going to the cops is much more credible.
posted by teleskiving at 8:47 AM on August 12, 2006


There's one dimension to this particular extortion that I haven't seen mentioned yet: universities can fail students for courses retroactively. Most schools are going to be extremely reluctant to do this, but a case where a student bought all her papers -- especially for a required course -- might actually be enough for the university to revoke the student's diploma. This means that not only will the extortionist be able to extract a couple hundred dollars from this student every year, but he might eventually be able to threaten that she will have to go back to school a year or two after she has graduated.

Finally, I want to underline what Oddman said earlier: as a TA at a state school I have caught 10 plagiarists in the last 7 semesters on the basis of style alone; any reasonably experienced instructor would need no more than two or three questions to expose fraud like this.
posted by Mmmmmm at 8:53 AM on August 12, 2006


I like the idea of the joe job, but don't spam the teacher only from the bad guy's address--he might use a different one. Instead, unremittingly spam the teacher with a volume of email so great that the address is forever worthless. Sign him up for every adult, gambling, mortgage refi, etc. site in the world. Buy time on zombie PCs. Get the teacher to change email addresses.
posted by jewzilla at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2006


Civil_Disobedient's answer is the cleverest but would probably require some fabricated evidence. For instance "old" emails between student and tutor showing some collaboration. Again, if you are found out in the end, you are in a world of hurt for creating a web of lies.

I think the best solution is one that leaves the friend with a clean conscience and mitigating any further long lasting damage. Taking an F and repeating the class next year is ideal. Somehow getting outed by someone you paid to do your work seems likely to provoke less leniency from the prof than approaching him or her with true remorse and begging for another chance.

And then giving the tutor $50 to shut up or you'll go to the police helps insure against any further nastiness from this person.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:35 AM on August 12, 2006


As someone who has dealt with cheating in courses many times at a major university, I can tell you with some confidence that the absolutely worst thing you can do is to lie to the instructor. All of the suggested schemes are likely to be suspected as lying. Threaten the craigslist tutor with legal action and see how far that gets you but don't lie to the instructor.
posted by bluesky43 at 10:05 AM on August 12, 2006


jamjam writes "I don't think she should go to the teacher or the school; this is one of the areas in our society where the punishments far outweigh the crime, in my opinion."

Really? Would you mind if your doctor didn't actually complete any of his course work but instead paid someone else to get his degree?
posted by Mitheral at 11:02 AM on August 12, 2006


"Really? Would you mind if your doctor didn't actually complete any of his course work but instead paid someone else to get his degree?"

This is not the place to have this argument.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:22 AM on August 12, 2006


There sure is a lot of sleazy advice in this thread. If she wants to continue being sleazy, she can try to cheat her way out of the consequences her cheating has brought her.

If she wants to make it right, she'll need to 'fess up.
posted by taosbat at 11:43 AM on August 12, 2006


Jesus Christ- do not pay the blackmailer. There is nothing to stop him from ratting on her anyway, or continuing to blackmail. Maybe he is only asking for a few hundred dollars now, but wait until just before graduation when he tries to extort several thousands. Your friend can then totally forget about graduation, degree, career at that point, unless she's suddenly won the lottery. Best to threaten him with jail, if she has enough info to do so. If not, she better come clean to her professor.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:12 PM on August 12, 2006


Mitheral, as you may or may not be aware, there are thousands and thousands of pages on the net right now which accuse Martin Luther King of serious plagiarism.

I don't know how true such accusations are, and extracting signal from noise in this case looks to be a heroic, thankless, and extremely perilous task, to put it mildly, but if even a tiny fraction are true, and the kind of draconian sanctions had been applied to King which the silly young subject of this question faces, his career would have been destroyed before it began, and the world would have been deprived of one of the greatest human beings the US has ever been lucky enough to produce, not that we can take credit for him, or deserved to have him.

I think the example of King alone, and I'm sure it could be multiplied many, many times over, should be enough to make any reasonable, humane person think something is very seriously wrong in our almost gleeful readiness to destroy young lives over relatively trivial transgressions such as plagiarism.
posted by jamjam at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2006


Does the friend know the identity of the "tutor"? If all the communication has been going on by email, then she's got nothing, right?

And in that case, how will the threat of going to the police carry any weight at all?

As for his motivation to rat on her, he might be doing it just for the heck of it, or also for the same motivation as the Mafia: because he has other clients and that way he can prove (assuming that the case gets in any way documented by the school or the press) that he's a man of action.

I suppose a trail of money is more difficult to hide, so maybe he'd be giving up his anonymity if he accepts money.
Did he ask for a money transfer, or what?
posted by sour cream at 1:06 PM on August 12, 2006


Ethereal Bligh writes "This is not the place to have this argument."

Your right, sorry TreeHugger.
posted by Mitheral at 2:25 PM on August 12, 2006


Go to the instructor? Ignore the morality nannies in this thread. This is awful, awful advice. It is likely to ensure the worst outcome.

Drop the class or learn the material now. Inform the blackmailer that you've dropped the class- or perhaps that the instructor has already been told what has happened- and threaten to go to the cops. Demoli's idea about getting a lawyer to threaten may be a good idea. Do not pay the backmailer no matter what.

C_D's "just-a-tutor" method seems the best if the worst happens and the prof. gets word.
posted by spaltavian at 8:53 PM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]


" Ignore the morality nannies in this thread. This is awful, awful advice. It is likely to ensure the worst outcome."

As an instructor, no it isn't. It is the best advice in this thread, and the only course of action that gives the student some control over subsequent events.
posted by LarryC at 10:17 AM on August 13, 2006


"...and the only course of action that gives the student some control over subsequent events."

No. Given that the student fears discipline from the school more than having to pay the blackmailer, then your advice is to relinquish all control over the matter which concerns her the most. Your advice is not unlike advising someone with a severe disease who is afraid of death to kill themselves, because it "gives the [patient] some control over subsequent events".

It's more likely, as an instructor, that your advice is more about what you want than what the student wants.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:10 PM on August 13, 2006


She shouldn't consider paying the blackmailer. In fact, she shouldn't give the blackmailer any indication that she's taking his threat seriously at all. The easiest way out is probably to electronically shrug, tell him that his e-mail confirmed for her realize how dumb it was to hire him as a tutor in the first place, and inform him that she's withdrawn from the class and will no longer be needing his services. And goodbye. (Note: Not dignifying the blackmail attempt with a response.)

Ethically, I think that she should, in fact, withdraw from the class and chalk this up to a lesson learned about why she shouldn't cheat.

If she has any relationship at all with her prof, I think that coming clean is the right thing to do (after withdrawing...I think it's obvious that she doesn't deserve a grade for this course.) However, if fear of telling the prof. is so strong as to convince her that it's better to be blackmailed, then maybe she could wuss out on this point.
posted by desuetude at 2:01 PM on August 13, 2006


i would advise her to withdraw from school altogether...there are too many who, given the opportunity, would choose to not undermine the value of a college education by cheating through it...

...the blackmail aspect of it doesn't change this, though the poetic justice of one cheat being screwed over by another makes it a bit more satisfying...
posted by troybob at 11:15 PM on August 13, 2006


Ethereal Bligh:
the advice to come clean with the instructor is good advice, not self-interested advice from instructors answering here.

Acting on the assumption that the guy might actually tell the instructor, the better scenario is the one where the student has already come clean.

If the guy does tell, the only way she has a prayer is if she has thrown herself on the mercy of the instructor. In my experience, most instructors are interested in the well-being of their students, and would try to find a solution that didn't totally crush her future prospects -- IF she was honest and contrite. As I said above, I think there's a good chance (depending on the circumstances) the instructor might let her re-do the course work for a C. If she confessed and offered honest contrition (and maybe pleaded the pressure of freshman year or whatever), then at most schools I know she would definitely not be expelled.

But if the guy tells the instructor and the student hasn't confessed (or worse, has engaged in some further dishonest shenanigans), then most instructors I know would rain fire on her -- making it a personal priority to get her a stiff administrative penalty. Worst-case scenario, expulsion and inability to enroll elsewhere, comes from not confessing.

If one assumes the guy won't tell, then the payoffs and penalties for actions are differently weighted. But it's completely unfair to the other commenters to say that they are commenting selfishly.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:27 PM on August 13, 2006


No, I don't think it is when you notice that there's a very strong correlation between those advising such and their occupation as instructor. It's bad advice, again, because it guarantees the outcome the student most wants to avoid.

Only you and the other instructors can know just how much your preference on this advice has to do with you and your feelings about the situation and a rational evaluation of it apart from how it affects you. But the rational evaluation doesn't support your conclusion.

We don't really know whether the instructor will receive this news from the student generously, and we similarly don't know if the blackmailer is bluffing. Those are both unknowns.

The difference between confessing and hoping for the best and getting the worst and calling the blackmailer's bluff and getting the worst is nothing. Both will result, assuming your theory about the pissed-off instructor is correct, in the worst outcome likely.

Now let's look at the difference between confessing and hoping for the best and getting the best and calling the blackmailer's bluff and hoping for the best and getting the best: the two are not equal outcomes. The best the student can hope for from confession is still a bad outcome, ranging from a withdrawal (and the instructor probably telling someone else about it), to a failing grade, to, the worst outcome, expulsion. The best the student can hope for from calling the blackmailer's bluff is passing the class while doing less work than they should have. That's a pretty positive result! The two don't compare.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:21 PM on August 14, 2006


The people here who are instructors are not giving advice out of selfishness, but out of their understanding of the actual dynamics of the situation when students are caught cheating. Because they have seen students get caught cheating, and they know how the odds of an ok outcome (like withdrawing without penalty, or getting a C or D) vs. a horrible outcome (being expelled) work out.

The reason I assume LarryC said that confessing gives the student some control is this: it is an action she can take to very probably avoid the worst-case outcome. She can't control what the tutor does, but the worst he can do is turn her in, and it's in her power to diminish the sting of that.

So, should she be risk-averse, or should she gamble on getting the best outcome from her actions? Maybe everyone is right that this guy can be deterred by threats, or bribed finitely, or safely ignored, so she doesn't need to be risk-averse. But the instructors here are giving her informed opinions about how to weigh actions if she is inclined to be risk-averse. They are not giving advice to serve their own interests.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:54 PM on August 14, 2006


I'd be more inclined to believe this if the instructors making this argument, and who are presumably making it from direct experience, would provide something concrete that would show that a favorable outcome from confessing was more likely than not. How many cheaters and plagiarizers have you caught that you've had withdraw and not refer to institutional disciplinary action? How many of those were people that came to you after being blackmailed? Why, exactly, do you interpret someone doing so as "voluntary"? It's not as if they had a moral crisis and they came to you. I've never taught, but I personally really wouldn't be that sympathetic to a student who came to me only as a result of being blackmailed. And remember that the outcome of the confession, given your assumption that the blackmailer is likely to follow-through, is that the instructor would learn of the student's motivation in confessing even if the student didn't tell the instructor.

My previous in-depth analysis tried to be as rigorous as possible and simple assigned the decision of the instructor and the blackmailer to "unknown" and avoided attempting to estimate probabilities.

But I also don't see how the likliehood of a favorable response from the instructor to a confession could be as high as you suppose nor do I see the likliehood of a favorable response from the blackmailer when calling their bluff to be as low as you suppose. One thing you and the other instructors haven't accounted for is exactly how you would feel you were able to react on the basis of an unknown third-party asserting that this student was cheating. There's a lot of unknowns there: presumably you'd react one way if the blackmailer provided some kind of convincing proof and another if he did not.

Anyway, a lot of this is really about choice theory and my analysis is making the classical mistake of equating the motivation of risk aversion to the motivation of reward when all other things are equal. A lot of the argument in this thread may amount to those who lean in one direction and those who lean in the other.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:23 PM on August 14, 2006


But it is the instructors commenting who have the clearest idea of the likely outcome of confessing to the instructor. I have dealt with dishonesty many time, I talk with other professors who wrestle with the same thing, I am speaking from a very wide sample here when I say that if she withdraws, then confesses, it is vanishingly unlikely that the instructor will pursue further action. When a student steps forward to admit cheating on their own volition, we tend to be pretty damn pleased, and ready to cut that student some slack.

Now compare this to the odds of the blackmailer following through with his threat. Given that all it takes is for him to send an email to expose this student, it seems a threat worth taking seriously. And once that happens, she is screwed. Not just fails-the-course screwed, but very possibly kicked-out-of-school screwed.

So the safest path, the one with the best odds of not getting kicked out of school, is to withdraw from the course and confess. Telling the blackmailer to go fly a kite is the riskiest path, with both the greatest possible reward (he just goes away) and the worst possible outcome (he spills the beans, she is expelled). Paying the blackmailer is probably reasonably safe, though with the possibility of future payments becoming necessary.
posted by LarryC at 9:36 PM on August 14, 2006


Well, if you really believe, based upon a good amount of relevant experience, that the instructor would respond favorably to a withdraw/confess course of action ("favorably" being no further action taken), then I rescind my criticism. But for me the key is how much experience you have with this in conjunction with how closely the situation matches your experience, along with how likely that experience will apply elsewhere. Also, consider that we don't know how the blackmailer intends to act on his information—it may not be the instructor that he intends to inform. If so, that could change things substantially. If he informs the dean of the college or a disciplinary agent, then the confession might get the student very little.

I agree about paying-off the blackmailer. That was my advice as the middle-course in my first comment. Given your comment, then, I'd amend that to combining your advice and paying off the blackmailer. Withdraw, confess to the instructor, and paying the blackmailer may be the most risk-averse (safest), least reward-seeking course of action.

Still, I think my point about confession guaranteeing the bad result that the student clearly most wants to avoid is an important one. For this to be good advice, the student needs to reconsider the situation and reevaluate her fears.

Somewhat riskier and more reward-seeking would be to pay the blackmailer but not withdraw and confess. It might be possible to substantially lower the risk of this course of action by (as I mentioned earlier) paying the blackmailer off in such a way as to make him vulnerable to prosecution for blackmail (e.g., paying him by check).

The least risk-averse, most reward-pursuing course of action would be to call the blackmailer's bluff (non-provacatively; for example "I simply don't have the money to pay you") and not confess.

If possible, a high-reward but slightly less risky alternative would be to leverage the blackmailer's fear of police involvement, providing the blackmailer is vulnerable. If the blackmailer is clearly vulnerable (he's disclosed his real name or otherwise his identity is easily knowable and the police could realistically be expected to take action) then refusing to pay the blackmailer while diplomatically informing the blackmailer that he's vulnerable to prosecution could produce the highest reward outcome while avoiding paying the blackmailer.

I think that summarizes the best alternatives available to the student. She should carefully consider how much risk she's willing to take and how much reward she desires.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:30 AM on August 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


LarryC feels like the police interrogator leaning on a suspect in the Prisoner's Dilemma.
"Your friend is going to confess. We'll go easier on you if you talk first..."
posted by klangklangston at 7:19 AM on August 15, 2006


Any update?
posted by starman at 6:24 AM on August 17, 2006


A late entry from me on this. Why not just claim someone had accessed your computer, in a way you're not sure of, maybe you have your Documents directory shared on an open wifi, and they accessed your files and threatened to claim that they were writing your papers for you, as extortion to get money out of you.

It then explains why they have your files, it becomes he said, she said, and I really doubt that this guy is going to go through the trouble of really trying to prove that he did this for her, since the more information he gives, the more he incriminates himself.

Tell the extortionist that she has already given the professor a story which explains why all the papers are in the possession of someone else, and that contacting him now would only bring more trouble on himself.

More then likely this would not only give you an excuse, but also be a deterrent for the extortionist.
posted by gregschoen at 11:58 PM on August 17, 2006


I can't believe anyone would recommend further lies to be offered as a way out.

you tried to get away with something and it blew up in your face. that happens.

confess, take your punishment. you can hope for leniancy.

but first, call the cops. if that guy is extorting you, he is commiting nothing short of a felony and should be dealt with accordingly.
posted by krautland at 11:37 PM on August 18, 2006


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