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After 35 years in public education as a university administrator and a high school English teacher, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalists awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Virus of Sextortion

It’s Cocooning Day 50, with no Covid -9 cases so far, in our Château Lake San Marcos community. Karen and I wear facemasks when we leave our condo to take daily walks. We discovered how to fashion a mask by using two rubber bands to hook over our ears to hold a hospital sock over our nose and mouth. We tried everyday socks, but discovered their thickness hindered our breathing. The thinner hospital sock souvenirs, if less fashionable, are more comfortable. Thanks to Netflix, Prime Video, our “Social Distance Singers” YouTube production, and ongoing writing projects, we’ve been able to fend off the boredom of social isolation.

An unexpected benefit in our daily lives has been the unusual absence of scam telephone calls. But that hasn’t kept the online predators away. Yesterday I received this email from a Syed Mehmood Ahmed.

I do know, *******, is your pass word. Hey, you don't know me. Yet I know just about everything about you. Your current facebook contact list, phone contacts as well as all the online activity in your computer from previous 127 days. Consisting of, your self pleasure video footage, which brings me to the main reason why I am writing this particular mail to you. I will be forwarding the recording randomly to 5 people you're friends with. It may be your friends, co workers, boss, mother and father. I would like to make you a 1 time, no negotiable offer. Get $2000 in bitcoin and send it to the listed below address. You've 24 hours to do so. Your time begins as soon you read through this mail

Guilty only of viewing an occasional X-rated film, I was not worried about what the predator threatened to reveal to my friends and relatives. But that first line caught my attention with an actual password I changed ten years ago. Yahoo had announced email accounts had been hacked at the time. Nevertheless, I immediately changed my current password, as added protection from wannabe hackers. An Internet search of the extortionist’s name was of no help. Variations of the name are as common as “Joseph Smith” in the USA.

In a June 17, 2019 CNBC story, Kate Fazzini wrote, “Overall, extortion by email is growing significantly, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Compliant Center (IC3). Last year, these complaints rose 242% to 51,146 reported crimes, with total losses of $83 million.”
I learned attempted extortion is a federal crime, so I went to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and filed a report. It’s also punishable in every state, so I filed a report with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which has law enforcement authority in the city of San Marcos. Finally, I notified the Executive Director of the Château Lake San Marcos to warn our fellow senior citizen neighbors of the threat.

Having to hide from a health threat over which we have no control, it felt good to fight back at those who would take advantage of our isolation. 

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