Screencaps via Fox Detroit
Hector Hernandez is a seemingly average seventeen-year-old kid in Detroit. Earlier this week, he stole and pawned his family’s jewels so he could wire money to internet blackmailers in the Philippines. He did this because they had threatened to publicize webcam video they had managed to get of him by hacking his webcam.
According to reports, this scam is becoming increasingly common. Hackers trick someone into installing a remote access application, switch on their webcam when they’re doing something "indiscreet," then Facebook message them a copy of the video, and threaten to show it to their parents/significant other/boss/whomever the person in the video would least like to see it. In short, it’s a crime of that type of psychopathic genius I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
In the case of Hector Hernandez, the scheme paid off to the tune of $1,700 in three installments, money he was able to get his hands on by pawning $100,000 worth of jewelry he stole from his family (which doesn't seem like a very good deal.) The scammers probably used a trojan horse to install the remote access tool or “RAT virus”, as they’re calling it on TV news, on Hector's computer.
The Facebook messages they sent threatened to show the video to his Facebook friends, and “on his school’s website,” because apparently where these scammers come from, high schoolers give a shit what’s on their school’s website.
When they hit Hector up a fourth time, he’d had enough. He came clean to his parents and the scammers’ cash cow died. His mother says she’s “So angry. I'm disappointed with him,” but she hasn’t disowned him just because there’s a video of him (probably, but lets face it, definitely) jerking off to internet porn. "I didn't want to tell my parents so I took their jewelry," Hector told Fox Detroit. "I didn't want my parents finding out what I did and I feel terrible about it."
These scams are starting to become common. The other day, I took my computer in to have it repaired and the Genius Bar guy said “If you don’t mind my asking, why do you have TeamViewer installed on your computer?” TeamViewer is a remote access application, and I use it to communicate with my PC for when I need to run a PC-only application from anywhere when I’m using my mac. It’s not a virus. It’s brilliant, and free for personal use.
But, the Genius Bar guy informed me, people are pulling this scam, mostly on women. I still felt safe and immune after he told me. At the time, I suppose I imagined the blackmailers spying on sexy women walking around their houses naked in a scene out of some kind of 21st century Meatballs. But now that I see that someone as average and, well, male, as Hector can fall prey to this, no webcam is safe as long as people do embarrassing things near their computer. That means I’m as susceptible as anyone. Maybe more.
There is an even darker, uglier side to this, though: people also use these types of scams to blackmail people into committing even more sex acts on camera, rather than pay money. Worse still, it seems people are putting kids as young as eight up to this. According to The Guardian, some of these kids go on to perform self-harm, or in one case, commit suicide.
Now I don’t know if people are initially getting blackmailed because people have video of them jerking off, but in the interest of stopping these blackmail cases, we need to cut them off at the pass if that’s all it is. You mature, emotionally balanced parents out there should let your kids know that if someone tries to blackmail them on the internet, you’re not going to disown them just because you found out what’s on the video.
Meanwhile, if there are shitty judgmental parents who would give their kids a hard time for something like this, they deserve to have their jewelry pawned. But maybe take it to a place that's going to get you better than a 1.7% return.
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