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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

An email on my screen was deeply disturbing.  The sender said that he had got inside my computer and accessed all my address lists – email, FaceBook, and text messages.  I must immediately send him $7,000, or he would send a pornographic video, and an image of me watching it, to every one of my contacts.  The money should be sent via “Bitcoin.”

What made it convincing is that the sender included in this message, a password that can only be mine: it’s the name of an obscure character in history.  I had used it for a BofM credit card – long discontinued – and for an online website.

That was enough to convince me that this “ransom” criminal might – just might – be able to send out the disgusting material in my name.  Ugh.

There were also little telltales in the email that suggested that the sender was not capable of doing what he threatened, but I couldn’t be sure.  What should I do!?

Well, the simplest solution would be to send out an email to all my contacts, saying, “I have been hacked!” and “Please ignore any gross messages that purport to come from me.  It’s a hack!  Just delete.”

Umm, email all eight hundred and thirty-five of my contacts?  Some are family, and friends, and church contacts; but many of them are people who accessed me from my website, with questions about faith, and ministry, and the Bible!  Send a warning to all of them?  I didn’t think I had much choice.

I prepared the message, and sent it off to the first fifty of my contacts.  And my system crashed.  The stuff would not go out.

Which isn’t a total surprise, because I am at my wilderness cabin, far “off the grid,” accessing the Internet through a satellite that belongs to my neighbour at the lake.

Picture this:  me, wearing a yellow raincoat, under a huge red umbrella, sitting on a bench in the pouring rain,1 beside my neighbour’s cabin, laptop open, and trying to get a mass email sent!

Well, my mail software, and that poor satellite dish, simply couldn’t handle it!

So, I gave up, and went back through the woods to my own cabin.  I spoiled Heather’s day by telling her about the ransom email, but as we thought it over, and examined the message line by line, we began to think that the danger of a mass pornographic mail-out in my name is fairly low.  Still, we should report the thing, shouldn’t we?

But without Internet inside our cabin, and in the pouring rain, how are we to do that?

Maybe if I were to consult, by telephone, a police officer who investigates cybercrime, he or she could advise me about the wisest course of action?  I could FAX2 them a copy of the offending letter, if they want, or I could go back down to my neighbour’s and email them the thing?

Unfortunately, here in a cabin, “off the grid,” I can’t go online to look up phone numbers.  Let me just call the local RCMP and they can direct me.

Using an ancient paper “phone book,” I found that the RCMP detachment nearest to my cabin is 100 km. away in the town of Cornwall, Ontario.  But, there was a phone number.  I called it.

The officer who answered was both courteous and sympathetic, and gave me the 1-800 number of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

And thus began an intriguing journey, with the following steps:
  1. Call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.  A machine replies, “All our lines are busy.  You can file your report at, or you can try calling us back later.”  Click.
    (the machine was not concerned that I don’t have access to the Internet, and cannot file my report online!)
  2. Call a friend from the Manitoba RCMP Veterans’ Association.  He might know a specific department to call.  He suggests calling the Manitoba RCMP, “D” division.
  3. Call the Manitoba RCMP.  I spoke to an officer in the Technological Crimes department, who said he could not help me, as he only does “forensic analysis.”  As a Winnipeg resident, I must call Winnipeg Police.
  4. Call the Winnipeg Police.  A machine answers, and instructs me to “Press [x]” for email and Internet fraud.
  5. So I press [x] and another machine tells me that – if I have not had any money taken – I must simply call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, whereupon it gave me the familiar 1-800 number.
  6. Call the fraud centre, anyway – hoping against hope.  A machine replies, “All our lines are busy.  You can file your report at, or you can try calling us back later.”  Click.

Well, it could be that everyone in Canada has received a version of my ransom letter, and is crashing the Anti-Fraud Centre’s system.  That’s small comfort, though.

I tried twice more, over a period of an hour or two, always with the same result.

So, you are looking at my best possible solution: this blog post.  I’m telling you that if you get a pornographic message purporting to be from me, ignore it!!!  It’s a hack.  Oh, and maybe you should let me know that it did come to you.

Additionally, this is a way of reporting the incident to the whole world, if not to Canada’s police services!


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from Joan W., Friday, July 27, 2018 08:35:30 AM CDT (CA)

Best wishes, Tony Wow.  My heart goes out to you.

I’ve been hacked too.  Some creepy person got onto my files through Microsoft Word.  Not a fraction as destructive as yours, but what a job getting all that info – passwords, etc. – back together!

Thanks, Joan!  My main problem was worry – that my innumerable contacts would get porn from me, and the difficulty of sending out a notice from the Québec wilderness.  Thankfully, the password that the blackmailer has is so old that there is no location where I need to, or am able to, change it! — Tony

(I posted a link to this story on FaceBook.  The following are some of the comments that were soon posted under that link:)

Ariel (daughter, in London, ON)

Well, that’s annoying.

Chris (son, in Vernon, BC)

I got that as well, just this past Sunday!  I filed a report at and spent the evening entering randomly-generated passwords into each website that still used the compromised password (all stored in my handy password manager).  What a pain.  And I’m sure quite successful for the fraudsters. :(

Nancy (friend, in Winnipeg)

I got that one too.  Caused us a small password panic too.

Dorothy (friend, in Winnipeg)

I got it as well but it didn’t contain a password I'd ever used.  I forwarded it to Shaw.

Ann (friend, in Winnipeg)

I got it as well Tony – I just deleted it and uplugged everything.  Waited an hour and opened up and everything was OK.  Good Luck.

Tom (friend, in rural Manitoba)

Sorry to hear about your cyber predicament Tony.  Don’t let it spoil your vacation.

Allison (friend, in Saskatchewan)

This story is astounding, hope it didn’t destroy your peaceful retreat.  I’m impressed by your thoroughness, however.

Donna (clergy colleague, in Winnipeg)

I just heard an interview on CBC this afternoon with a Winnipeg woman who was on the receiving end of this hack/scam.  So intrusive, annoying, and time consuming!

Another Winnipeg friend sent me a link to a text version of the very program that Donna had heard.  The program, and several others that were broadcast across the country that day, confirmed that the scam was widespread, and in fact the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre may indeed have been overwhelmed with reports. — Tony

Jo Ann (cousin, in southern Ontario)

I finally got around to reading your experience.  As much as it was a disturbing experience I found myself laughing while reading.  You have a real knack for writing.  Thanks for putting an even bigger smile on my face.

I have to admit that this compliment made my day — Tony


1  A couple of years ago, I described in this blog how I currently get access to the Internet. Click here to see it, but note that in that entry, I claim never to do so in the rain.  Well, this week, it’s supposed to rain every day, so if I want to access the web, I need raingear and an umbrella!
Click here to get back to the narrative.

2  Yes, FAX.  When Heather had her law practice, we bought a fax machine that can be used with our landline telephone.  It still works.
Click here to get back to the narrative.

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