Why is it that thrillers and horror films always seem to make money? From Psycho to last year’s It, many of us are consistently willing to pay someone to scare the bejeezus out of us.

Perhaps it’s the thrill of the thriller that makes us feel alive. Or the sense that it steels us against whatever may come in real life – since it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the terror that lurks just outside the frame in a horror flick, ready to jump out at us and make us spill the popcorn.

But hey, at worst we’ll be solidly prepared for the next time a shape-shifting evil clown emerges from the sewer every 27 years to prey on our children…

Tell you what’s downright scary

Back here in the everyday, there are some real-life financial horrors. One of them involves being blackmailed via your webcam.

Picture this: you receive an email or text from someone who has got hold of a password that you commonly use. They have accessed your webcam and have secretly recorded you viewing websites of a questionable nature. They’ve got your browsing history and videos of you in private.

And unless you pay up (typically between $1,700 and $3,000), they will email the recording to all your contacts for your embarrassment.

They’re just pretending...

The webcam blackmail email is a well-known scam that has recently spiked here in New Zealand. The cons take advantage of recent online data leaks to get one of our passwords and then lead us to believe they’ve been able to access our computer.

The supposed video recordings probably don’t exist: there are no reports of a scammer releasing any kind of video when a ransom doesn’t get paid. They are just being opportunistic – taking advantage of finding a data leak online and pretending to hijack a computer.

If you ever receive a webcam blackmail email, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Simply report it to CERT and delete. And if someone in your circle has been affected by such an email, you can get help at cert.govt.nz or by calling 0800 CERT NZ (0800 237869).

Yet “sextortion” is eerily real

While the email blackmail scam mentioned above is a sham, it has a dark underbelly that unfortunately happens: “sextortion”. This occurs when what was meant to be a private webcam chat between people who don’t know each other very well gets used to blackmail a victim for money.

Webcams can be a great tool to communicate, but the technology can be dangerous when it’s used to defraud people. The team at Netsafe have important information on how sextortion works and how to avoid these scary situations.

Let’s keep the horrors at the movies. Stay safe out there.

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