Cybercrime is becoming a bigger problem every day. Companies are bothered by it, but we may not forget the individual. Whereas companies are mainly financially damaged by cybercrime, individuals can be traumatized for the rest of their lives. I spoke one-on-one with a Dutch victim of a foreign webcam hack in the worst form. The name of the person, locations and organizations in question have changed at the request of the interviewee.
For the Dutch version of this article, click HERE.
Stefan’s laptop is always on in his room and the webcam is thus focused on his bed. Like everyone else, Stefan is busy with things that everyone actually does in his room, even the things that are never talked about. Out of nowhere, he was contacted by a stranger who said that he had revealing footage of Stefan and that he would pass on to his family if he did not pay 500 euros very quickly. The webcam had been drained for weeks, as it turned out later. Here is where the misery began.
What has actually happened to you?
“It started somewhere in June this year. I was called by an unknown number. At first, I did not answer him, because why should a foreign number call me? But he kept calling, so after a fourth time, I decided to answer it. The man on the phone started talking to me in English that he wanted to see money, but I could not hear him very well. So I hung up. Later I got a text from him with the same message: he wanted to see money. He said he had something from me and sent a vague internet address. When I clicked on the link, I came to a site where I was confronted with footage of myself.
That first moment was surreal because you can’t comprehend it yet. You see yourself, your own room and … I do not know what you do in your bedroom, but it was exactly that. Again he reported that he wanted to see money, otherwise he would put my footage on the internet. Actually, I was still a bit sceptical, because he did not know who I was. I remained sceptical until I got a screenshot of him in conversation on Facebook with my cousin. At that moment I panicked. “
What exactly did the hacker want?
“He said that I had to quickly transfer 500 euros with my credit card. I did not have a credit card, let alone 500 euros. After all, I am only a student. What I did know is that I had to keep him content, because he had something from me, and I had nothing from him. In the end, I transferred 100 euros via Western Union, and he had figured out exactly where the nearest point was for me. I did make clear to the employee of Western Union, with whom I had to hand in the money, that the money was given for extortion. She said she could do nothing at all, and that it was the normal course of events.
I had to pay the 100 euro at 6 o’clock in the morning, and the hacker told me he wanted to see the other 400 euros at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. In the meantime, I had to collect the rest. He also said that it did not matter to him if I did not succeed because he had already fucked up enough lives. So my life was just one of many. The only thing he could care about was money. “
How did you use the next 5 hours?
“I had to deal with that hacker. He constantly asked what I was doing or where I was and I even had to take pictures of my surroundings. After I paid the 100 euros, I went to the police. There I was, told after 45 minutes that they could not do anything to me. The police said they would not set up a whole research team for 100 euros. In the meantime I had to walk in and out of the office to make pictures that I was in another street again. I had lied that I was going to friends.
My only thought after the police visit was that I had to abandon the internet. From that moment on I called my parents and told them what was going on. It is not the greatest experience, because you do not want to say that you are on the internet with such footage. Actually, they took it very well. I told them that I would use the next few hours to erase my entire online identity. Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, whatever. I had asked my parents to Google me constantly to see if there would be anything else available on the internet.
About 11 AM this finally succeeded. I was – according to Google – completely off grid. My parents could not find me anymore. After this, I stopped communicating with the hacker. I was confident that he could not make me anything anymore. Then the hacker smelled blood, but he was too late. The only way to distribute the footage effectively was through my family and other relatives. He had found all of them through my online profiles. But I no longer existed. Then the roles were reversed.
He panicked slightly and became angry. He would give me another half hour for the money. Half an hour passed and that became 45 minutes, then three hours. He uploaded the footage, he said. From that moment on I never actually had contact with him again, except for a phone call. Shortly before I sent my friends and other family a message that if they get a strange message, they should not open it. Please leave me undamaged and do yourself a favour, I said. “
Did he finally stop sending messages?
“The hacker continued to send messages for a week, but I did not see them until a week later. I went on vacation to Australia two days later and did not have internet there. What I do not know is why I answered the phone one last time, but I did it. Then I also heard that he was in some sort of vague office because I heard several people talking. “
That wasn’t a nice vacation then, was it?
“No, that’s right. The first two days I was still in my head with the ‘what if’ question. After those two days, on the other hand, I also had the feeling that if something had happened, my parents would let me know. That did not happen in those two days and then I actually started to celebrate my holiday. The hacker contacted me once again with the message that I had beaten him. Probably this was a way to try that I would create Facebook again, so I did not reply. After that I never heard from him again.
What was the eventual damage?
“From a purely financial point of view, 100 euros plus a few euros for the transaction costs. But I have lost my entire professional portfolio and network. I have to start building that again and if you have translated all those man hours into euros, then you are just in the thousands of euros of damage. Yet I am convinced that this was the best way, I had little choice. “
Did this whole experience change your view on the internet and it’s safety?
“Fortunately, it is as it is now. If you put it in perspective, it could have gotten much worse with me. Imagine you are 12 years old and you are too scared to tell your parents, then you will just jump in front of a train or jump off a bridge. Or imagine you are a CEO. That hacker breaks everything. First I was that guy who always acted laconically about these kinds of hacks. It would never happen to me. Pure karma, for that I am the one where it happened. That’s why I’ve also taken safety measures, such as a slider in front of your webcam, so you can slide it open and close whenever you want. When I told someone from CamHatch my story about the mail, I was immediately sent home. So for the rest of my life, I will think about everything in which ways I will never have to experience such an experience. “
Are you planning on going to show yourself online again?
“Yes, that is for sure. I think that if I had everything protected in the beginning, this would not even have happened. All my social media was open to anybody, because I was the guy who did not believe in this kind of shit. I always said that I felt sorrier for the person who had to look at me than I felt sorry for myself. That is a rather silly statement in retrospect. “
Do you think the government is doing enough to prevent cybercrime?
“Somewhere, of course, it is your own responsibility, but I do think that there may be more info available, from the government. On the other hand, I was that stubborn guy and that is why I do not know whether more information would have affected me. In high school, I would hope that they give a lot more awareness about the subject, because they are much less independent. I think that’s a good one. I also do think it is a bad thing that I could not even file a report with the police because it was a foreign crime, they said. I thought that was a real bummer. “
What would you recommend others in your position?
“Tell everything. That woman at the Western Union said that the only thing you can not solve this with is paying. Perhaps telling the truth is very shameful at first,after that you do not have to live your life to the commands of the hacker. Make it clear that you are on a webcam and that people should not watch it if they want to please me and themselves. That is actually all you can do, but do not keep paying. “
What is the future like for you?
“First I have to do a lot of cleaning work online, and for the rest I have not thought about it yet. I really have to go to the internet again, because I just have my professional career going on. So I do not know exactly what the future looks like, but I want to be able to close this chapter and just feel safe on the internet again. “