‘This account is hacked!’

This is the breathless beginning to a new kind of email scam. The email, which has been widely circulated, claims that its author has hacked into your computer and installed spyware on your webcam. The author, the letter claims, controls numerous porn sites.

“I started spyware on the adult vids and guess you have visited this website to enjoy it (I think you understand what I really mean).”

The not-so-subtle message is that the receiver has been caught with his pants down while watching porn, and that the person’s ‘performance’ has been captured on their own webcam by remote control software.

The scammer goes on to say that unless they receive US $1000 worth of Bitcoin within 48 hours, they will expose the person’s naughty bits for the public to see, with half the screen showing the person and the other half showing they porn they were performing to.

It’s all an elaborate scam. There is no porn site, there is no spyware, and there is no webcam footage. It’s not the only one reaching Vanuatu inboxes, either. Another message forwarded to the Daily Post was more explicit in its language, ultimately telling the recipient, “You are very perverted!”

This one demanded US $2,000 in order to stop the recorded video being sent to everyone in the recipient’s contact list.

Sometimes they even use an old password they’ve recovered from a data leak when millions of accounts get compromised.

These spammers are relying on people’s guilty conscience. They’re also playing the numbers. They know that huge numbers of men and women look at pornography—far more than would admit it.

PornHub is the largest pornography site in the world. It is among the top 40 websites on the internet. In 2018, it saw 33.5 billion visits. That’s about 92 million visits a day, equivalent to the populations of Canada, Poland and Australia combined. Every day.

What are the odds that the person who receives one of these ‘sextortion’ messages has visited a porn site recently? Pretty good.

According to Psychology Today, one prominent 2018 survey “found that 73 percent of women and 98 percent of men reported internet porn use in the last six months, for a total of 85 percent of respondents.”

If you’ve received one, don’t panic. You’re not the only one. No one is singling you out. Unless you’re extremely unlucky or unwise, no one has video of you playing while watching dirty movies, either.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a page devoted to helping people who have received these threatening messages. They counsel their readers: “do not pay the ransom.”

Should you reply or respond in any way to these messages?

“Absolutely not. With this type of scam, the perpetrator relies on the likelihood that a small number of people will respond out of a batch of potentially millions. Fundamentally this isn’t that much different from the old Nigerian prince scam, just with a different hook. By default they expect most people will not even open the email, let alone read it. But once they get a response—and a conversation is initiated—they will likely move into a more advanced stage of the scam. It’s better to not respond at all.”

Sextortion scams are just the latest in a long list of nasty ways people try to prey on your fears. Don’t believe them.

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