SHOCKING: I just found out the hard way how dangerous Facebook can be.
The story you’re about to read is shocking, very scary and true. It is not a hypothetical example of something, rather it’s something that happened to me only two days ago. It has made me realize how dangerous Facebook can be and not just to adults, but to children as well.
And, I had no idea it could happen until it did. I had never read about anything like it happening… so I had no reason to think it ever could happen. Until it did. And that’s why I feel obligated to write about it… so others can know what can happen and makes changes before it does.
First of all, let me just say that I’ve come to really like Facebook. I didn’t at first, by the way. In the beginning I thought Facebook was something for kids… like MySpace mostly was, I think. But over the years I’ve come to enjoy what Facebook provides and makes possible.
It’s very easy to set-up and use… and It’s a great place to put photos and other things that you want to share with family and friends and a great way to keep up with what friends and family are doing. In fact, it’s so easy to use that I think many people forget what’s really going on and how dangerous it can be to have a camera on your computer and a Facebook page that almost anyone can see.
Here’s what happened…
Monday, December 7, 2015, Around 3:00 PM.
I sat down at my computer to do some work and catch up with whatever was happening on my Facebook page just like I do at some point in almost every day. And then a message popped up in Messenger, which is Facebook’s instant message utility, I think they call it.
It was from someone that I didn’t know or even recognize… her name on the screen was Kamara Anne. She was asking if she could talk to me.
Now, I get a lot of people contacting me to ask questions, usually about their mortgage or some other related topic about which I’ve written, so that’s what I figured this was… and so I typed in “sure, what’s up” and clicked reply, or whatever the button says on it.
Then everything changed. She sent a message saying that she had a video of me naked, masturbating and that she was going to publish it on YouTube and send it to everyone I know, including my wife and daughter if I did not do what she would tell me to do. She said I had only seconds to agree or she would post the supposedly incriminating video.
Now, her English wasn’t good so her sentences were choppy at best, but her point came across just fine, as you’ll see below. Here’s what she said …
I have video of you it is beautiful and so if you try to run away, you play hard, to stand up or disconnect me I show the video to all your relatives such as knowledge of Family and you really see what I’m capable.
So can not try especially not to run away
if you want to play hard I’ll publish I swear something badly rotten for your life if not you then remain quiet and listen to me very well or I publish your private life and your image, you know very well that I can be done and more your video is a video pedophile and this is prohibited on the net and the laws so if I publish you gonna do the rest of your life in jail I swear if not then remain quiet and listen to me and we put the end to this story OK
Answer me quickly or you wanna see me act
Would you like me to show the link of your video to your family
You have seconds to act do what I say and this is avoided
Okay, so at first I thought it was some sort of goofy, although highly offensive scam. Then she posted photos of my wife and 20 year-old daughter along with the following and a link to YouTube:
MR Martin Andelman is mastube cam in shame for his family
MR Martin Andelman is mastube cam in shame for his family Executive Director & Editorialist at Mande…
I was stunned, but remained calm. I knew there was no way that anyone could have a video anything like the one she described, so I clicked on the link and sure enough went straight to YouTube. A video screen came up saying it was “Private” and sure enough my face was on the screen and I was wearing the same tee shirt that I had on at that moment! How in the world, was all I could think at that moment, and then I clicked play.
It was a video of me at my desk that had to have been taken that very day. You could only see me from mid-chest up, which is the view my computer’s camera would have. I wasn’t naked or anything, I was just working at my desk… reaching for my coffee… typing… looking at the screen… typing some more… I couldn’t believe what I was looking at… how was this possible?
Then at one point, maybe 15 seconds in, I stood up and turned to my left to get something from my bookshelf, so you couldn’t see what it was I was getting, but since I was now standing, you could see my tummy, and for a second or two I guess I reached to scratch an itch and in doing so pulled my tee shirt up maybe three inches… nothing too exciting… lol. Then I returned to my seat and continued working, apparently while unknowingly being recorded on camera.
And that was it… it ended. I wish I could show it to you now, but it’s been deleted. It was only like 30 seconds long and there was no nudity or sexual acts to be seen. I returned to her message screen where she was still typing her threatening messages to me… next she said that if I tried to escape, “I was a dead man.”
Then she sent over photos of my wife and 20 year-old daughter… real photos that I recognized immediately… one that I took of my daughter this past summer in Washington DC and that I have on my phone. She said that she was a cruel person who didn’t care whose life she ruined… and she said that she’d already ruined the lives of hundreds of others.
I was to do exactly what she told me to do, or I was to be ruined. And what did she want me to do? Why, send her money, of course. She never told me exactly how much money I was to send, but she did say that I was to send it to an account outside the U.S.
Well, that was more than enough for me.
I started trying to keep her engaged so she wouldn’t go away, as I clicked around to figure out how to report what was happening to Facebook and YouTube and the authorities. YouTube took the video screen down in a matter of minutes… it took Facebook longer, maybe 20-30 minutes… and I was annoyed that neither company offered good instructions for how to report such things to the authorities.
She started threatening me again, and told me that she was listening… I replied by saying: Really? What are you hearing? It was frustrating and I was getting mad. Now I wanted to go after her.
Then I asked: Have you seen the video? She said nothing. She said I had only seconds to reply, and I asked again: Have you seen the video? Again… nothing. Now I wasn’t even sure she was real… maybe she was a robot? She certainly hadn’t seen the video before trying to blackmail me.
By then, YouTube had it down and her page removed, but she was still on Facebook. She had her own Facebook page with a bunch of photos and whatever else… and I probably sent Facebook 10 complaints in which I cut and paste what she was typing in her messages, and like I said, about 20-30 minutes later… her messages were deleted… her Facebook page was gone… and I was about to learn how the whole thing had happened… and happens everyday to people all over the country.
They call it “Revenge Porn.”
That’s right, its happened enough to get a name. You can Google it here and find story after story, and according to law enforcement, it’s dramatically underreported because victims don’t want anyone to know that it happened to them… they’re embarrassed and scared to death… so they pay the money and pray that the threat goes away.
I was lucky. First of all, I am not someone who scares easily and I never panic. I’m 54 years old, have been around the block more than once, and I’m not someone embarrassed by sexual topics.
Secondly, I knew with certainty that there was no way she had a video of anything like she was describing. Maybe at 20 or 30 years of age she could have made me think twice, but at almost 55… well, I’m not going to explain why I wasn’t worried, and if you don’t get it… just ask a dad you know whose in his mid-fifties, owns two homes and is putting a kid through college. He can explain it, I’m sure.
However, here’s what I learned about this and what I think you need to know so you or someone you love doesn’t end up learning this the hard way.
1. The camera on your computer is ALWAYS ON… unless YOU TURN IT OFF!
That’s right… there’s a setting on your computer to turn your camera off, but since no one ever mentions that, chances are you never even considered it, but you don’t have to be using your camera for someone else to be using it to film you!
I turned mine off after this happened, obviously, but I also put duct tape over the darn thing. It’s not a high-tech solution, I realize, but I’m sure it’ll be effective because you can’t hack duct tape. You can find out how to turn your camera off by consulting your favorite techie, or check YouTube. Here’s a link to Google’s search page: How to turn off the camera in my computer.
There’s plenty of information out there, but here’s an article on the subject to get you started: How to disable your webcam (and why you should)
2. Way too much of your life is on Facebook.
Where you went to school… where you live… photos of your family and friends… what hobbies you’re into… what are your kid’s names… who are your relatives… where you work and how long you’ve worked there… are you liberal or conservative… who you voted for… where you went last year on vacation… whether you’re religious or not… and so much more that the list of what you can learn about someone through their Facebook page is essentially infinite.
I used to say, when the topic of privacy came up, that my life isn’t that interesting, so who cares who knows where I went to college or whatever, but after this woman threatening me while posting a photo of my wife and daughter… well, I won’t be saying anything like that again.
3. Facebook is NOT protecting you.
Sure, they ultimately took down this blackmailer’s page and messages after an hour, but I’ve never been able to reach anyone directly, and they didn’t offer anything else online or via email, nor did they tell me how to report the event to authorities or even whether I should do so or not.
And the next morning I received the following message from the nice, caring folks at Facebook…
We reviewed your report of Kamara Anne’s message. Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the message you reported and found it DOES NOT violate our Community Standards. (Emphasis added.)
Wow, is that incredible or what? It DOESN’T VIOLATE their “community standards? What kind of community does Facebook live in, I’d like to know? And I’m dying to know precisely what would violate their “standards,” because if this doesn’t rise to that level, then I can’t even imagine what that might be.
4. I handled it, but what if it happened to your 20 year-old son?
I was 20 once, but that was 34 years ago, so I don’t know for sure how I would have reacted had something like this happened to me back then. But it’s not at all difficult to imagine that someone might panic, send money… or in some cases, do something much worse. I read about one attempted suicide that occurred as a result of being victimized by a Revenge Porn scam, and I didn’t read more than a couple of articles.
The Bottom-Line? If you want my two cents… address this situation today. I’m no expet, but here are a few things I can think of to reduce your risk.
- Turn off or put duct tape tape over the camera on your computer. Use it like a handheld camera. Take it out to use it and then put it back in a drawer somewhere.
- Try not to post personal information ANYWHERE, but at least make your Facebook page PRIVATE. (Check YouTube and you’ll find plenty of videos on this topic… here’s a link to YouTube’s search on that topic: How do I make my Facebook page private?)
- Talk to your kids about this threat. Show them this article or any of the others you’ll find on-line. Tell them that if anything ever happens to them online, they should never panic and let you know immediately. Talk to your grandparents too… they’re the fastest growing group on Facebook, by the way.
- Never accept Facebook “Friend” requests from anyone you don’t know well. Just met someone at a party and now he or she wants to be friends on Facebook? Don’t do it. Wait until you know the person well enough to be actual friends.
- Be vigilant. I never worried about this sort of thing before, but even though nothing bad happened to me this time, I’ll never treat is casually again. Because if they can do this sort of thing… what will they think of next? (Actually, I don’t even want to think about the answer to that question.)
- Tell Facebook how you feel about how little they do to protect people from this sort of thing by emailing them a letter demanding they do more. Here’s a link to Contact Us on Facebook.
I pray that people will not only read this story and take notice, but that they will immediately change the settings on their computers and how they utilize and manage their Facebook pages. I think Facebook is so easy to set-up and use that we forget just how dangerous it can be if not used very carefully.
Technology is wonderful in so many ways. I mean, when I was a kid we used to see pictures of “the future” and there were always images of flying cars and telephones with video screens. Well, my car still travels on the road, but today those pictures of video phones look archaic compared to what we’re all carrying around today.
However, we should never forget that these wonderful new technologies are often double edged swords. They make things possible that never were before and when that happens there’s always someone ready to take advantage of that new capability. But when it’s our privacy that’s at stake, it also means that our safety is at stake too… and we should never forget that.
And shouldn’t Facebook have a big WARNING label on it telling people about their webcams being on even when not in use… and the risks associated with posting personal information and family photos on their pages? Of course they should, but it occurs to me that if everyone tightened up their privacy settings and limited what they were willing to post on Facebook, people would probably use it a whole lot less.
And then what do you think would happen to Facebook’s high-flying stock price of $104.60 a share, as of today’s close. Well, it wouldn’t go up, I’ll guarantee you that.
So, Facebook knows of the dangers involved, and they know how to protect yourself better too, but why fix something that will harm your stock price? Better to wait until there’s a tragedy… hopefully by then it’ll be someone else’s problem, right?
It reminds me of the Ford Pinto that Ford knew had the tendency to explode when rear ended, but they decided that it was cheaper to settle the claims after people died than recall and repair the cars to prevent tragedies from occurring in the first place. And people did die as a result.
Is that what’s going to have to happen here before something is done? I hate to say it, but unless enough people write to Facebook and demand change… the answer is probably yes. And I know that it’s not their fault that it happens, but at the same time, I also know that it couldn’t happen without them, now could it?