This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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Keeping an Eye on Where Your Camera is Pointed
Cell phones have become a necessity in modern life. We take them walking, we take them driving, we take them to bed, and we take them to the bathroom. These small pieces of metal, plastic, and glass are some of the most contacted items in our home or office, yet we rarely give them a second thought. Last night, while I was asleep, I received a call from an unknown number on Skype. Because I get calls from around the world at all hours, I answered the call. A computer voice said, “Look at your screen, if you do not send us Apple gift cards we will send these pictures to your friends and workplace.” When I looked at the screen, there was a goofy picture of me sticking my tongue out and photoshopped picture of my head on a naked guy. I realized somebody’s been watching me.
A Scary New Scam for Gift Cards
My first reaction was to hang up and block the number, which I should have screenshotted first because I could have had my tech guys backtrace the IP (assuming they were not using a VPN). After I blocked that number, I got another message that said “Kiss your life and career goodbye.” I blocked that number too. Then I started making calls to employers (who were still up) and family members whom I knew would be up to tell them not to open any drop boxes from me or about me. I did not sleep well until about 4am when I recalled the guy in the picture had “6 pack abs.” This helped me sleep because no one who knows me will ever mistake me for a guy with a six-pack unless it is in my hand.
Hackers are an ever-present threat on the internet. I do not know whether this person was an angry reader, someone whom I had beaten in a negotiation, or even just a random person who happened to come across my name. Regardless, it was enough to rattle me. They had a picture of my face (which had to have come off of my phone), a mocked up conversation, and the photoshopped picture. When someone wakes up out of a dead sleep with that kind of stuff, I can see how some people would be scared into sending them the gift cards. The Federal Trade Commission states if a person gives a scammer a gift card (or pays them in anyway) then they will keep coming back and extorting money from you. This is something that you do not want to do.
If something like this happens to you, screenshot the message they send, the Skype name (or phone number), and anything else that they send. Once you have done this close the conversation, block the person. Be ready because they will probably message you from another name. When they do, screenshot and block that too. Once you have done this, call your local police and let them know about it. You can also call the FBI and they have a site where you can upload the information. Then make sure to let your employer and friends know about the situation. Scammers like this rely on you being embarrassed about what is going on. I you did nothing wrong, then there is nothing to be embarrassed about.
This situation did make me more aware of the camera on my phone. For years, I have taped over the camera on my laptop because I know “when the computer is on, the camera is on.” I never thought about the cameras on my phone. There are three cameras on the phone, two on the back and one on the front. Seemingly, whoever hacked me hacked both sets of cameras. This means that we need to be aware of where our phones cameras at all time. Just remember, if there is a camera and/or microphone, somebody’s watching me.
Why is this such a pressing issue? How many of you take the phone with you to the bathroom? How many of you have a stand that allows your phone (and camera) to face your bed as an alarm clock, but don’t think of that when you are “intimate?” Phones have become the fly on the wall that sees all and hears all. While I am not going down the rabbit hole of conspiracy about the government watching every move we make, I will point out that hackers have access to loopholes in your phone. Only keep the apps that you need active. Make sure you look at which apps have camera permissions. These things can keep you safe.
Another concern we should all be aware of is when we let younger relatives play with our phones. Up until now, I would let kids play with my phone; it is insured, the bank account is not connected to it, so really, what can they hurt. Now, I am having second thoughts. What if a kid had been playing on my phone when that message came in? What if the person watching me captured a picture of that child to reuse? These are scary thoughts.
This article is not designed to scare you. This article is designed to make you think. We always live with our phones around us. They have become part of our lives that we are addicted to. Therefore, I am proposing June 13th will become “Leave your Cell Phone Off Day.” Take 24 hours where you leave your cell phone off. Leave your cell phone on the charger, but do not play with it, do not check your emails on it, just take a day off from your device. How long has it been since you had a day where you were “unplugged?” Take the time to take your life back and let that somebody who has been watching you take the day off too!
Fear is their Best Tool
I hope none of you ever get the shock that I got last night with the messages from that creepy computer voice. I hope that you never see your face photoshopped onto another person to scare you into giving someone else money. However, if you are, and even if they get a real picture of you because of where you take your camera, own it. Do not let them extort you because you are a criminal. Be proud of who you are. Being naked and having someone “peep” on you is not your fault and does not mean you have done anything wrong. It is them who are the guilty parties, so screw them! Don’t let them take your hard-earned money. Just be aware with your cell phone, you have cameras and microphones on you at all times and it is highly likely somebody’s watching me. Treat everything you do with your phone as if you are on a hot microphone.