How twisted paedophile ring conned Derby schoolboy that they were his ‘friends’
WHEN Jake’s mother discovered her young son was planning on meeting a stranger he met on the internet, she was right to be worried.
She took him to a police station, where officers told him that his new internet “friend” was nothing of the sort.
Neither were two other men Jake – not his real name – had been messaging for months.
They were, in fact, all part of the same paedophile ring.
Jake, from Derby, was 14 by the time he agreed to meet up with one of them. Had his mother not found out and gone to the police, the teenager fears he would now be dead.
“My mum found out literally three days before I was due to meet the guy,” said Jake, now 18. “It’s scary to think I was three days away from probably having a different future. I don’t think I would have come back.”
Having taken the decision to come out, the 13-year-old posted details of his sexuality on Bebo – a social networking site that allows anyone to view a user’s profile.
It was not long before he started getting messages from people he had never met. He said: “I got a lot of interest from older men that was really off-putting. There were others who said they were in their late-20s and I got chatting to them.
“It was nothing sexual. I was just very, very bored and they were offering me good advice and a bit of support because I was being discriminated against at school after I came out.
“I talked to some of them over a period of months. I found it really good to pour my feelings out to them. I’ve never had any use for a diary, so they were like my diary.”
Jake said there were three men who he kept regular contact with. “We would message daily on Bebo,” he said. “After about a month they would say, ‘here, this is my number – text me if you want’. That would then lead to them texting me and stuff while I was at school.”
After a few more months, one of the men asked Jake if he wanted to meet – and the teenager agreed.
Jake said: “We arranged for him to pick me up in Derby and go for a coffee. Then the plan was to go to Birmingham, do some shopping and go back to a hotel room.
“I was fully aware of what the intention was sexually. It was sort of exciting.”
But just three days before the date, it was off.
Jake said: “Mum found some messages on my phone and asked me about them. At first she thought they were just from people at school and that I was a confused teenager discovering myself sexually.
“But then she suspected they were a lot older. We sat downstairs and had a cup of tea and I told her the full story and that they were actually in their late-20s.
“She was worried and so said, ‘right, we’re going to the police station’.”
The police told Jake it was lucky his mother intervened when she did.
Jake said: “The police said the people I was talking to were in a paedo ring. The way it worked was one person sends out feelers, which is them telling everyone else in the ring about someone vulnerable, like me.
“They all then contact that person and slowly build up a trust that leads to them getting you. If one person fails to bring you in, someone else in the ring will do.
“The police said the people I was talking to were very dangerous and had done this kind of thing before. They told me the man I was planning to meet was at least 10 years older than he told me.
“Essentially, the police officer told me that if I had gone to the hotel I wouldn’t have come back. I could be dead.”
Jake said he did not know exactly what action the police then took.
“They asked for my Bebo password and did the rest. I have no idea what happened next, although one of the people I was talking to was convicted.”
Recalling the first of the three men, Jake said: “I started talking to him quite early on after I joined Bebo. He contacted me first saying, ‘I see from your profile that you are gay, do you want to chat?’
“He said he could give me advice and answer any questions I might have. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and he was being perfectly friendly, so I chatted back.
“He started off just asking me about myself – things like my music tastes and friendship groups and how school was going. It was how you would talk to a friend and that’s what he became.
“It was six months of messaging every day before we arranged to meet up. I thought it would be safe but clearly it wasn’t.”
Jake said the second man started off “a lot more sexual” and the third one was a “mixture of the two”.
Since the police became involved, Jake has had no contact with any of the three men.
His Bebo profile was deleted and his mobile number was changed. “I even had to quit my job and stop going to my gym so they wouldn’t be able to find me,” said Jake.
Five years on, he is studying at the University of Derby – but he remains haunted by what could have been.
Asked what advice he had for teenagers chatting to strangers on the internet, he said: “You’re not smarter than them. Don’t meet them. Don’t even talk to them.”
Another true story of the online dangers
A Chilling Case of Sex-tortion – A web of victims
The hacker knew every move the unsuspecting victim made. He controlled her computer webcam and microphone. He could see her in her bedroom, hear her conversations, knew every keystroke she made online. And he threatened to expose her secrets unless she bowed to his demands.
It may sound like the plot for a scary teen movie, but it actually happened, and there wasn’t just one victim—there were more than 200, and dozens of them were adolescent girls.
Don’t Let It Happen to You. Here are a few precautions that can keep you from being victimized by a social engineering attack:
– Don’t take for granted that your computer’s anti-virus software is a guarantee against intrusions.
– Turn off your computer when you aren’t using it. (The majority of computers involved in the sextortion case were laptops; many of the victims chatted on social networks so much that they never turned off their machines.)
– Cover your webcam when not in use.
– Don’t open attachments without independently verifying that they were sent from someone you know.
– It’s okay to be suspicious. If you receive a message with an attachment from your mother at 3 a.m, maybe the message is not really from your mother. “Most people are too trusting when it comes to their computers,” Agent Kirkpatrick said.
– If your computer has been compromised and you are receiving extortion threats, don’t be afraid to talk to your parents or to call law enforcement.
Unlike many computer intrusions, where a hacker uses malicious software to steal identities or financial information, this case was primarily about spying and extortion—or as our Los Angeles cyber squad more aptly termed it, “sextortion.”
The hacker, a 31-year-old California man who was arrested in June after a two-year investigation, used malicious code to infect and control the computers of his victims. Then he searched for explicit pictures from their computers, downloaded them, and used the images in an attempt to extort more pictures and videos from them.
“What’s so frightening about this case was how easily the victims’ computers were compromised,” said Special Agent Jeff Kirkpatrick, one of our Los Angeles cyber investigators who worked the case.
After the hacker infected one computer, he used a popular social networking site—and a technique called “spear phishing”—to spread the virus. “It was a social engineering attack,” said Special Agent Tanith Rogers, co-investigator on the case. “The victims were tricked. They had no idea what had happened until it was too late.”
Victims—particularly teenage girls—were understandably devastated when they learned their privacy had been so completely violated. Many were afraid to tell their parents about the situation.
“He was smart,” Agent Rogers said of the hacker. “He used their fear to try to control them.”For example, the hacker attached a pornographic picture of one victim in an e-mail and demanded sexually explicit video of her in return for not telling her parents about the pictures he had downloaded from her computer.
“If he hadn’t attempted to contact the victims,” Agent Rogers said, “he could have done this forever and gone undetected—the victims would never have known he was listening and watching. That,” she added, “is one of the most disturbing things about this case.”
In several instances, the hacker posed online as a young woman’s friend or sister and sent messages with attachments asking if the victim wanted to see a scary video. Because the messages appeared to be from a trusted source, the victims usually didn’t think twice about opening the attachment. When they did, the virus secretly installed itself, and the hacker had total control over their computers—including all files and folders, webcams, and microphones.
Using similar spear phishing methods—posing as a friend or a trusted source, the hacker spread the virus through the social network like wildfire. In all, there were 230 victims and more than 100 computers impacted.
“And this guy was no computer genius,” Agent Kirkpatrick said. “Anybody could do what he did just by watching an online video and following the directions.”
It doesn’t only happen in America, it happens here in the UK too.
A “disgusting” internet paedophile, who repeatedly took control of schoolgirls’ computers from his own home before terrorising them into sending him indecent pictures of themselves, was jailed for 10 years