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From Russia with Love

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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

By Andrew Biggs

The email came out of nowhere and hit me like a truck.

In the address field was written: “ABiggs Sunnybank78”. Just that was enough to set my heart beating and adrenaline pumping.

The email came from a Romy Marotta and this is what he wrote:

It is just so unfortunate. I do know Sunnybank78 is your pass word. Most importantly, I know your secret and I've proof of your secret. You don't know me personally and nobody paid me to investigate you.”

My heart sank from my chest down to my feet. Romy was right. Sunnybank78 was a secret password I used extensively ten years ago. It’s a combination of my place of birth and my birth year. Oh all right it’s not my birth year — it’s the year Kate Bush had her debut hit, “Wuthering Heights”, a song that changed my life — but don’t beat on me for telling a little lie. I’m under extreme stress as you are about to discover.

That was just the opening paragraph from Mr Marotta. I assumed Romy was a man, as I’ve never come across a person touting such a first name. Later I discovered it is a male name, and one that is “a popular baby name for hipsters” if the internet is to be believed. I suspect Mr Marotta is neither a hipster nor a baby. He’s certainly not a native English speaker, as evidenced by his next paragraph:

“I installed a malware on the adult vids (porn material) and you visited this site to have fun (you know what I mean). While you were busy watching video clips, your browser began working as a Rdp (Remote control desktop) that has a keylogger which provided me access to your display screen as well as web camera. Immediately after that, my software obtained your complete contacts from your messenger, facebook, and mailbox.”

I had to read that paragraph a good three or four times before it sunk in.

My first reaction was that Romy needed a good editor. How I wanted to take to that paragraph and clean it up! But this was not the time for semantics nor grammarian pedantry. Romy had taken control of my PC. He’d raided my contacts. What on earth was he going to do next?

“Next, I made a double-screen video. 1st part shows the video you had been viewing and second part displays the recording of your web cam (it’s you doing inappropriate things). “

A shiver went down my spine.

Evil Romy hadn’t just taken over my virtual world, like some Mini Me or Riddler. He’d been filming me while I visited websites!

“I will, no doubt send your video recording to all of your contacts including close relatives, co-workers, and many others. It won't protect you from the humiliation yourself will feel when friends and family learn where you have visited.”

Too late, Romy. I already felt sick. Physically sick.

You see, of late I’ve visited some internet places which, well, I don’t want anyone to know about.

Just recently, for example, I visited Mariah Carey’s official website. It was research, dear reader! Ya gotta believe me! I was trying to establish her age and birthplace, but while I was there, I did happen to click on her music video “Emotions”, one of her very early hits from the 1990s before she morphed into a space creature from an intergalactic video game.

Yes, I admit I sang along to it, bobbing my head back and forth, lip-syncing, rolling my eyes happily as she sang the chorus.

Romy had caught all that on film.

That wasn’t the only shameful act I’d performed.

Recently I went on YouTube and watched the scene from Sound of Music when Rolf and Liesl sing “You Are Sixteen Going On Seventeen” in the rotunda. Look, it had been a stressful day and I needed a break. I’m not proud of what I did but to err is human, to forgive divine.

And yes, I danced around while watching it. It is utterly shameful and embarrassing. Imagine if it got out.  If my mother saw me in the midst of performing that act by myself, I’d never be able to look her in the eye again.

How could I stop Romy’s dastardly deeds? Luckily there was an ensuing paragraph that held the answer:

“Option One is to ignore this e-mail. If you do I will send your clips to your family and friends. Option 2 is to pay me $8,000. I'll erase the recording immediately.”

Eight thousand dollars! That’s 266,000 baht! Where am I going to come up with such a figure in so short a time?

That was when I thought: “I know. I’ll just go to the cops.”

At this point you must be thinking, ‘I’ll just go to the cops’,” continued Romy, as if reading my mind. “Let me tell you, I have covered my steps to ensure this email cannot be traced time for me plus it won't steer clear of the evidence from destroying your lifetime. You will make the payment by Bitcoin (if you don't know this, search ‘how to buy bitcoins’ on google).”

Thanks, Romy, for that piece of advice at the end. I’d have never thought of that. And while you’re at it, quit hitting me with rambling stream of consciousness sentences. You’re a blackmailer not William Faulkner for god’s sake.

He concluded with a “Receiving Bitcoin address”, a long list of letters and numbers not dissimilar to when a cat runs across my keyboard. And a threat that if I didn’t act within 24 hours, those incriminating videos would soon be sent out to all my contacts.

You can imagine how distressed I was. I was tempted to bash out an email to all my contacts: “Please … if you receive a video from me with a Mariah Carey soundtrack, just DELETE IT.”

But as with all things adrenaline-induced, after a while I started to settle down. And smelled a rat.

First of all, I hadn’t used that password in ages. But the real revelation came exactly four days later.

I received another email with “ABiggs Sunnybank78” in the header! This time it was from Brooks Russ. Again, what sex is that? Or is Russ simply dyslexic?

“I won't beat around the bush,” Brooks, or Russ, began. “I do know Sunnybank78 is your pass word. More to the point, I know your secret and I've evidence of this. You do not know me and nobody paid me to check out you.”

Deja-vu big time. Brooks and Romy share a number of things in common, and not just the inability to spell password as a single word.

Brooks wasn’t as greedy. He wanted a mere $7,050 to stop my embarrassing videos cutting a swathe through my contact list, or a more manageable 230,000 baht. I assumed by paying Brooks, Romy would get off my back. I dared not entertain the thought I’d have to pay out a combined 496,000 baht.

A quick google of these email contents and I learned that this was a common scam perpetrated worldwide. With so many websites hacked these days, it is not so uncommon for evil types to get long lists of passwords and user names and do the rounds. If just one-half a per cent of recipients cough up the 8,000 bucks, he’s made a killing.

This is a great weight off my shoulders. My visits to Mariah Carey’s official website and other clandestine URLs remain private.

As for Tabitha Tilley, whose email just dropped in a moment ago, with the header “ABiggs Sunnybank78” — you can just go to hell. 

/Andrew

 

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