Do Not Submit to Online Blackmail

Do Not Submit to Online Blackmail

The Computer Corner

For many people, social distancing has meant spending more time at home and more time online. Criminals are not letting a good epidemic go to waste. Although criminology is not my area of expertise, I don’t believe expertise is required to understand the obvious about criminal enterprises. There is a new twist on the old sextortion blackmail scam in San Miguel de Allende. If you are not familiar with that term, simply Google search “sextortion fbi.gov” (no quotes) to find information on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation website.

After the first porn web sites appeared on the Internet in the 1990s, it is likely that tech-savvy criminals realized porn could be exploited. Examples of criminals attempting to blackmail Internet users go back a quarter century and the latest scam is an updated version.

The email starts off with something like, “We know your password is FluffyFid0#1972…” This grabs your attention because that’s a password you have used. The scammers have purchased a list of hacked passwords, like the three billion usernames and passwords Yahoo.com lost to hackers. The scammers will claim they know much more about you, but they really do not.

The email might say there is a “special pixel” in the email that reports when you read the mail. This has a grain of truth because it is technically possible, but this requires a hypertext reference and none of the emails I have examined included this. The email demands US$1,000 or more be paid by Bitcoin within 24 hours or embarrassing pictures of you will be sent to all your family and other email contacts.

Guys have always claimed they buy Playboy magazine for the articles, but it is harder to make this claim about a porn site on the Internet. The scammers are playing a guilt and numbers game. They send out thousands of these emails hoping one gullible recipient will fall for the ruse. Recently I met one person who will remain unnamed. When I got involved he had swallowed the scam whole but had not figured out how to send Bitcoins from the account he had setup.

I showed him websites including snopes.com, hoax-slayer.net and others that explained that it was a scam.  He was still alarmed, “But they have my address book and they’ll send those pictures to my mother and my sisters. I’ll have to move to a cave on some mountaintop and never see my friends again!”

I could not convince him otherwise, and there was no way I could guarantee that the blackmail threat was not real, just as I could not guarantee he would l never be hit by a meteorite. Still, the best advice is to never submit to blackmail.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

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