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Incoming millennial fraud tidal wave

How millennials' unique characteristics make them vulnerable to fraud

Fraudsters are targeting emerging millennials — those generally between the ages of 18 to 34 — because of their alleged lax social media habits and optimistic natures. Learn how you can thwart perpetrators by concentrating on this large vulnerable demographic.

Janet was a typical 17-year-old who liked online gaming and social media. When one of her friends told her about a website called Twitch, which specializes in broadcasting real-time play from games such as League of Legends, Janet found an outlet to share her enthusiasm for gaming with her friends and others with similar interests. She loved the Twitch community where she could communicate through direct messaging to other account members.

Janet wasn't surprised when she received an occasional rude comment from another member because she knew it was common for young women in an online environment. Usually the offenders eventually drifted away or site moderators removed their accounts. However, one member — who went by the screen name Obnoxious — was different than the others. And Janet would later find out how truly dangerous he was.

Janet and other girls around her age started to notice they couldn't get onto the Internet or that their data stream on Twitch was extremely slow. Obnoxious sent private Twitch messages telling them he was executing DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks on their accounts.

Obnoxious would direct-message an affected user and offer to stop the attack if she would speak with him online. At first, Obnoxious engaged in normal conversation, but he became more aggressive over time. He started requesting fan photos (pictures of the girls holding signs with "Obnoxious" written on them) to stop his hacking attacks, but he later asked for naked pictures instead. When some girls refused, Obnoxious threatened to post all of their personally identifiable information (PII) online.

The girls didn't know that Obnoxious had amassed a large quantity of their PII from the information they'd posted via social media and other means. Obnoxious, armed with this PII, contacted and duped customer service representatives at Internet service providers and Internet companies into providing passwords and other account information by giving the girls' dates of birth, addresses and Social Security numbers. This gave Obnoxious even more access to the girls' personal profiles.

Obnoxious' behavior became more threatening and brazen. He initiated unexpected pizza deliveries to girls' homes, posted nude photos online of the girls he'd extorted and even revealed the true identity of a young transgender woman. When Janet stopped responding to Obnoxious, he sent texts to her friends' cell phones telling them to coerce Janet to re-establish contact. When she didn't comply, Obnoxious did something Janet never expected.

In an early January 2014 morning, Janet's father awakened her and told her to come downstairs. As she stood at the top of the stairway, police SWAT team members aimed their guns directly at her. Instantly, she knew this was Obnoxious' doing. He'd called the local police department and told them that he'd killed people at Janet's residence and was holding someone hostage as they spoke. The police didn't realize that a 16-year-old kid from Canada had "swatted" them.

As Janet later learned, Obnoxious had perpetrated similar hoaxes against many other victims. Eventually, after more than two years he was charged with crimes. A judge sentenced Obnoxious to jail after he pleaded guilty to 23 counts of criminal harassment, public mischief and extortion. He will have served 16 months before he gets out of jail in March when he turns 18. (See The Serial Swatter, by Jason Fagone, Nov. 24, 2015, The New York Times Magazine.)


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