Beware of this COVID-19 extortion email scam making the rounds

Tracking Coronavirus

OLATHE, Kan. — An Olathe woman was outraged by an email she received this week that threatened to release a sexually compromising video of her if she didn’t pay $2,000.

What made the extortion email so believable, even though she knew no such video exists, is the con artists knew her personal password.

“That’s what alarmed me the most,” the woman told FOX4. She asked us to call her “Anna” to protect her identity.

“It was the idea that they said: ‘I know your password.’ And they did. The subject line and the first sentence in the email had my correct password.”

Local and federal law enforcement officials say they’ve seen an uptick in extortion email scams like this during the Stay-At-Home Orders issued because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This scam email is making the rounds, & we’ve had several victims who’ve paid,” the Kansas City Police Department warned on its Twitter account. “The scammers appear to be overseas. They’ve taken an old password they found that got published from a past data breach to freak you out.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned unscrupulous scam artists will exploit any crisis to find new victims and line their pockets.

 “Because large swaths of the population are staying at home and likely using the computer more than usual, scammers may use this opportunity to find new victims and pressure them into sending money,” the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said in a press release. “It is important to remember that scammers adapt their schemes to capitalize on current events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, high-profile breaches, or new trends involving the Internet, all in an attempt to make their scams seem more authentic.”

Anna is worried some people could fall for this scam, especially because the con artists seem to know the recipients’ personal passwords.

“I’m not the type of person who gets scared a lot,” she said. “But I felt violated. I was shocked. They knew my personal password. And they said a lot of things that were threatening.”

“I could see how this could scare a lot of people.”

In Anna’s case, the con artists claimed to know her Facebook and mobile phone contacts and all her online activity for the past 168 days, including an alleged sexually explicit video recording.

“I have the entire recording,” the email said. “And I will be forwarding the particular recording randomly to 11 people you know. Would you be capable to look into anyone’s eyes after it? I doubt it.”

The con artists, however, added: “It doesn’t have to be that route.”

And that’s where the extortion – or as the scammers called it — “a 1 time, no negotiable offer” came into play.

“Get USD 2000 in bitcoin and send them on the below address: 1AqK8XEhg51Dc15F5xHGZShyd*T4Qh6C3Eg.” 

If Anna didn’t comply within 24 hours, the email warned: “I will certainly make sure that you live out of guilt for the rest of your existence.”

Anna said she reported the extortion scam to local and federal authorities. She also changed all her passwords.

“They’re much stronger now,” she said. “I also checked my computer for viruses and malware, but didn’t find any.”

 She added: “I want to get the word out that this is happening. I know people who would totally fall apart if they received an email like this.”

KCPD offered the following advice to anyone who receives one of these emails: “DON’T pay. It’s a total scam.”

Consumers can also click on this link to file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Fraud Complaint Center.

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