The email extortionist and me

Not long ago, this missive came into my email inbox:

“Hi, victim. This is my last warning .

“I write you because I put a malware on the web page with porn which you have visited. My virus grabbed all your personal info and turned on your camera which captured the process of your [here the writer mentions an activity done by oneself, which is apparently frowned upon by God, first referenced in the Book of Genesis, concerning Onan, son of Judah, which I swear I have no recollection of doing — neither of visiting a web page with porn, for that matter].

“Just after that the soft [sic] saved your contact list,” the email continued. “I will delete the compromising video and info if you pay me 2000 Euro in bitcoin. This is address for payment: [link attached here].

“I give you 24 hours after you open my message for making the transaction.”

The email then informs me that going to the police is useless, that he or she doesn’t even live in my country, thus cannot be tracked, that he or she will know exactly when I have sent the money, sundry other threats, and also, that if I need 48 hours instead of 24, to “just reply on this letter with +.”

“Goodbye,” he or she concludes. “Dont [sic] forget about the shame and to ignore, Your life can be ruined [sic].”

“Jeepers Creepers,” I said to myself with alarm. “This is just like that episode of ‘Black Mirror’ I watched the other week. A science fiction story that takes us just a short distance into the future, and shows us how the technology that dominates our lives will come to dominate us even further, in dark and disturbing fashion.”

I consulted with friends, colleagues and various other counsel, whose advice ranged from the alarmed to the nonchalant.

In any case, that particular email got swallowed up in the sea of emails I get, threatening or otherwise, and I forgot about it. Then, more recently, another message arrived:

“Hello, victim,” it read. “I write you because I put a malware on the web page with porn which you have visited,” etc.

“I will delete the compromising video and info if you send me 999 EURO in bitcoin. This is the address,” etc.

“I give you 30 hours … If you need 50, just open the calculator on your desktop on press +++.

“Bye for now. Don’t forget about the shame, and to ignore, your life can be destroyed! All the best for now.”

“Jeepers Creepers,” I said to myself again. “The price has gone down. But like I said to myself before, it continues to remind me of ‘Black Mirror,’ that excellent series on N—F—x, that presents such a bleak view of where we’re headed with our over-reliance on the technologies of today. There’s something eerily prophetic about that great show, which I can’t recommend enough to anyone I know.”

But to procrastinate is one of my many character flaws, even when being extorted. So I forgot about the menacing messages from the dark shadows of the digital world until earlier this week, when a message arrived in my inbox.

“Good morning to you, victim,” it read. “Please to recall I have put a malware on that web page,” etc. “Horrible shame on yourself, and video of the process of your O––,” etc. “I will delete the compromising video and contact list and info, like I said, if you send me 125 EURO in bitcoin, or in cash if that is easier,” etc.

“If you dont [sic] pay, I send dirt to ALL your contacts!

“You have two weeks to pay. If you need three weeks type out certain symbols on your keyboard to spell a funny word upside down, like 58008.

“Really, really, don’t forget about shame — the SHAME, and to ignore, your belly will be turned inside out and your family will scorn!

“All the best of the holiday season to you, victim!”

“What holiday season?” I said to myself. “Hmmm, even though this continues to remind me of ‘Black Mirror’ — a really, really compelling TV series — there’s something about this extortionist that is becoming less and less compelling.”

In fact, as the emails continued and the price continued to drop (“if you don’t send a gift card for N—’s coffee shop in two months …”), my extortionist started reminding me less of the futuristic “Black Mirror,” and more of a story from antiquity.

In this story, an oracle came before Tarquin the Proud, the legendary fifth king of Rome, and offered him a book of prophetic verses at a price that was higher than the king wanted to pay. So he sent her away.

Later, she returned, having burned a third of the book, and offered him the rest at the original price. He again refused, and sent her packing.

Again, the oracle returned, having burned another third of the book, and offered the smoking, ashy remains at the same original price to the king, who, out of curiosity, this time paid. *

“Wait a minute,” I said to myself again. “That story is completely unlike this recent encounter with my online extortionist. I must be getting my deep past and distant futures confused.”

I switched on N—F—x, to watch another episode of “Black Mirror.” That should straighten me out.

* From “I Claudius,” by Robert Graves

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