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Money For Nothing: Bitcoin Blackmail

The spam filters on my email account snagged a message with an impressive subject:

Be sure to read this message! Your personal data is threatened!

The sender used my very own email address, sending the message from a server with a Mumbai IP address:

Hello!
As you may have noticed, I sent you an email from your account.
This means that I have full access to your device.
I’ve been watching you for a few months now.
The fact is that you were infected with malware through an adult site that you visited.
If you are not familiar with this, I will explain.
Trojan Virus gives me full access and control over a computer or other device.
This means that I can see everything on your screen, turn on the camera and microphone, but you do not know about it.
I also have access to all your contacts and all your correspondence.
Why your antivirus did not detect malware?
Answer: My malware uses the driver, I update its signatures every 4 hours so that your antivirus is silent.
I made a video showing how you satisfy yourself in the left half of the screen, and in the right half you see the video that you watched.
With one click of the mouse, I can send this video to all your emails and contacts on social networks.
I can also post access to all your e-mail correspondence and messengers that you use.
If you want to prevent this, transfer the amount of $796 to my bitcoin address (if you do not know how to do this, write to Google: “Buy Bitcoin”).
My bitcoin address (BTC Wallet) is: 14tfS3 << redacted >> WH6Y
After receiving the payment, I will delete the video and you will never hear me again.
I give you 50 hours (more than 2 days) to pay.
I have a notice reading this letter, and the timer will work when you see this letter.
Filing a complaint somewhere does not make sense because this email cannot be tracked like my bitcoin address.
I do not make any mistakes.
If I find that you have shared this message with someone else, the video will be immediately distributed.
Best regards!

The threat uses Nigerian-scam grade English, evidently targeted at folks with both a guilty conscience and a tenuous grasp on how email works. I thought those same folks would have enormous difficulty converting dollars into Bitcoin.

However, feeding the wallet ID into a Block Explorer shows three transactions over the last two days, with the account now standing at 0.43069539 BTC = US$2269.44. I have no way of knowing how many emails went out, but obviously three people had sufficiently guilty consciences to (figure out how to) make a Bitcoin transaction.

I’m sure this has something to do with my recent IP camera adventures

Update: The ransom payments tapered off after five days.

Bitcoin Scam - Total
Bitcoin Scam – Total

I don’t know how many different scams came from the same source, but $6700 (at today’s market rate) says this campaign paid better than most legal occupations outside the fintech sector.

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  1. #1 by David Davis on 2019-04-12 - 07:30

    How do you learn all the things you know? For example, I had never heard of a block explorer and would not imagined that you could use it to look up how much a scammer had made.

    • #2 by Ed on 2019-04-12 - 10:04

      Knowing (pronounced “having read”) that blockchains lock IDs (if not personal details) to public transactions, I searched for something like “blockchain tracing” and there it was. Not anything I’d ever needed, but I was unsurprised to find a business around it.

      As of now, eight transactions add up to 1.1 BTC = $5500 …

      • #3 by David Davis on 2019-04-12 - 10:51

        Will he make unlimited amounts of money or is there some sort of end game?

        • #4 by Ed on 2019-04-12 - 11:24

          This is one of the few instances where we can actually watch a scam unfold in real time.

          I assume the scammer set up the Bitcoin account for this email “campaign”, so the income will probably taper off in a few days; after all, there’s a deadline before all our details go public!

          Hey, if you could make ten grand just by emailing a million people, wouldn’t you? [evil grin]

  2. #5 by Koos van den Hout on 2019-04-12 - 13:46

    I’ve seen these too, I guess the scammers are all copying each other to cause the recent flood.
    It got funny when the scam mail was sent as an inline image with the scam text, including the instructions to carefully cut and paste the blockchain address. Which was a bit hard as it was an image!

    • #6 by Ed on 2019-04-12 - 19:05

      Ah! Copy the address image, paste it into Google’s image-to-text converter, copy whatever gibberish it produces, then make some random stranger $800 richer!

      Yeah, the addresses are globally unique numbers scattered across a very sparse space, but I know how it’d work out for me … [grin]

  3. #7 by Daniel B Martin on 2019-04-12 - 15:36

    You are receiving blackmail because someone, somewhere, thinks you have money. If they are right, congratulations!

    The spammers and robo-callers seem to target their contacts. For example …
    20 years ago I received offers for mortgage refinancing.
    10 years ago I received offers for erectile dysfunction remedies.
    Nowadays I receive offers for prepaid funeral plans!

    .

    • #8 by Ed on 2019-04-12 - 19:01

      Well played, Sir!

  4. #9 by captnmike on 2019-04-12 - 20:38

    Found at least 40 in my web site spam filter – but they only wanted $488 – sometimes 3 or 4 a day – nice of Akismet to filter all of these out

    • #10 by Ed on 2019-04-13 - 17:03

      A scam at every price!

      I wondered at the $796, which seems an unusual value. $800 would be rounder, so why four bucks lower for a BTC ransom?