It’s true. That sweet little Mac or rock-solid processing powerhouse PC might be a conduit to a virtual (in all senses of the word) Pandora’s box of everything we dread – embarrassment, fear, manipulation, and ultimately, impoverishment. Is it too scary to believe that the device that holds the key to your personal world can be used that way? Better read on.Human ingenuity – when used to solve problems, create art, invent technology – is a shining thing. It fills us with hope for the future. It makes us proud of our species. However, in the case of internet “sexploitation”, as it is now known, human ingenuity shows its other side. A dark and terrifying side. Those who take advantage of the most personal vulnerabilities of others can be either male or female. Their goal is not to take advantage of the user for sex or love. In face, no physical contact ever happens. These criminals are after money, and they are very effective at extracting it from the young, the disappointed, and the lonely.
We all know that computer hackers steal identities and steal money directly from individuals and companies respectively. What you may not have imagined is the hacker who overcomes the security on a young teenager’s laptop, gains control of his or her files, and uses the camera to take compromising or at least embarrassingly intimate pictures of her (or him). According to an article on the website FindLaw, these crimes are on the rise. Easily perpetrated by predators posing as Facebook friends and sending their victims files to download, or by brute hacking into IP addresses, this access gives the hacker complete access to his or her victim. Conversations and keystrokes can be recorded, as well as photos taken with the computer’s camera or lifted from the user’s hard drive.
Other perpetrators engage users in chat rooms and initiate a flirtation. Take this BBC story as reported on the Help Net Security website. The predator (a woman) invites the victim to an online chat or Skype session and offers to disrobe for him if he will also do so. A pre-recorded video of the woman stripping is shown on the Skype session, and often the unsuspecting man then also disrobes. A video of the victim is recorded without his knowledge. With the lightning speed of the internet, the victim finds himself being blackmailed by the perpetrator, who suddenly becomes as coldly demanding as she was alluring moments before. The victim is contacted within moments by the woman demanding money.
Recalcitrant victims are told that the woman is an undercover Ivory Coast police agent and sent a link to a website that is actually an imitation of an Interpol or local police site, depending on the victim’s location. Documents are sent, accusing the humiliated man of “stripping in front of minors.” Many victims pay and, of course, each payment is followed by another demand. Police in France, where it is believed that several traps occur daily, encourage victims to refuse blackmailers and report the incidents immediately. Fear of reputation damage, however, frequently gives blackmailers an edge.
According to NBC news, women are often targeted in a different way. Online romances begin through Internet dating services, with the man pictured as the classic “nice guy” who just wants a loving caring companion. After weeks or months of flattery, attention, even gifts of flowers and trinkets, the man asks the woman – to whom he has pledged undying love – for just a small favor. He gets paid in money orders in a foreign country and can’t cash them. Would the woman of his dreams be so kind as to cash them for him, then wire the money to him in the distant country where he is working? When she does, her bank demands that she compensate them for what are obviously phony money orders. The long-distance lover is mysteriously unavailable.
How should you protect yourself online? Don’t keep your laptop where you undress. Don’t click on links from people you don’t know. And keep your money and your clothing in place.
Some things are best done in person, if at all.