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However, all three recipients said the password was close to ten years old, and that none of the passwords cited in the sextortion email they received had been used anytime on their current computers.

It is likely that this improved sextortion attempt is at least semi-automated: My guess is that the perpetrator has created some kind of script that draws directly from the usernames and passwords from a given data breach at a popular Web site that happened more than a decade ago, and that every victim who had their password compromised as part of that breach is getting this same email at the address used to sign up at that hacked Web site.

In every case, the recipients said the password referenced in the email’s opening sentence was in fact a password they had previously used at an account online that was tied to their email address.

At first, the message seems harmless – an email pops up on your screen that could be from a friend or colleague. Because what follows is a string of vicious threats to destroy your life unless you hand over money.

The 'ransom' email explains that you have been caught viewing an adult website – captured on your computer's camera.

Adding to my sense of fear was that the email included a password I use for an online shopping account.

A barrier had been broken.'Hartley adds: 'Although I knew I had not been watching pornography, the way I was threatened – that a video of me would be passed on to contacts if I dared breathe a word – was horribly menacing.'I would have been mortified to know my friends and work colleagues might be contacted in this way.

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