Cornwall police issue warning about online blackmail scam

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CORNWALL, Ontario - Cornwall police are warning residents to protect themselves from an online threat that could be used to blackmail them.

Police said an online scam is circulating locally where residents are fooled into creating a relationship with a stranger online. The strangers are often protrayed as attractive people looking to start a relationship.

Often the fake relationship evolves into something sexual involving webcams and intimate activity.

The sessions are recorded via webcams and the footage is then used by the scammer to blackmail victims into sending money, for fear of having the material distributed online.

"What you may believe to be a highly intimate and private moment may in fact be watched by a room full of strangers," police said in a news release. "Some victims have been extremely distressed following this realisation, with tragic consequences."

Some victims have killed themselves, for fear of having the material leaked.

In another type of webcam-based scam, malware installed on your computer can be used to operate your built-in webcam, recording images of you without your knowledge. This malware is known as a Remote Access Trojan or RAT and can remotely activate your webcam, at the same time, disabling your camera indicator light.

Cornwall police have offered the following tips.

What should I do?

  • As always, make sure your software and systems are up-to-date, and that you are using up-to-date security software.
  • Be aware that anything you do on the internet, including video and voice calls, can be recorded.
  • Never use your webcam to video call someone you do not know.
  • Ask the person you are video calling with to do something in “real time” such as making the peace sign with their fingers or holding up a piece of paper with the current date.
  • Be cautious about people you meet online. People you meet online may not be who they seem to be.
  • Revealing personal details online is extremely risky.
  • Be aware that this type of scam is blackmail and it is illegal. The scammers are breaking the law.

If you have been threatened, you should:

  • Block their emails and their accounts from all networks. Cease all contact with the scammer. Scammers often seek soft targets, so they may move on if you do not respond. Some victims have reported no further consequences once they blocked the scammer and ignored their demands.
  • Be suspicious of any new or unusual friend requests, for example, someone you thought you were already friends with on Facebook.
  • Save the scammer’s details, emails, comment threads or any other evidence you have of them and the extortion attempt. This can be done with screenshots or taking a photo with your phone.
  • If you think images or footage may be posted online (you can set up a Google email alert to look for this content every day), you can contact the host site to ask them to remove the files.
  • Contact your local police and notify them of the activity.
  • The only leverage the scammers have is your embarrassment. You may consider accepting the disclosure.
  • Paying scammers and extortionists is never encouraged. Once you have paid, there is nothing preventing them from targeting you or your compromised computer again.

More information

You can report fraud and scams to Skype at abuse@skype.net.

Stay Smart Online offers a guide to safe social networking, as well as some useful insights into real life scams - online dating.

Organizations: Google

Geographic location: Cornwall, Ontario

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