It came like a chill wind. Some hacker had installed a malware virus on my computer and accessed all my passwords and email contacts. They claimed I had been looking at porn sites. They had proof it was me because they had control of the camera on my computer. The images obtained through the camera left no doubt as to who I was. This was a ransom demand, a blackmail email. They wanted £4000 in Bitcoins or a similar electronic currency. If I didn’t pay up they would send the images they had collated to every contact on my email program. It was credible. I had been looking at porn sites. My passwords were in the body text of the email. There was no doubt in my mind that my computer had been hacked.
There were many people in my contact list. It would be hugely embarrassing if they were to see the pornographic videos and images I had been watching. I felt sick and ashamed. I felt regret. I felt stupid. Why wasn’t I more careful?
I immediately fired up my virus protection program and scanned my hard drive. It detected two malware viruses, which it automatically quarantined. I then deleted them.
I’d heard about Bitcoins but my knowledge was superficial. I didn’t know how to buy or sell them. I didn’t know their price or what they actually were, but I sure as hell was going to find out. It was unthinkable that I would allow my private life to be exposed to the world. If this email was genuine, as I believed it to be, then I would just have to pay up.
I learned that Bitcoins were trading at around £4000. You could buy a portion of a bitcoin for £250. But first you had to obtain a bitcoin wallet. A bitcoin wallet was simply a digital place to store your coins. I signed up to a company called Blockchain. Security is critical when dealing in Bitcoins.. To be accepted I had to upload a photograph of my passport. Every time I logged in, Blockchain sent a code to my mobile phone which I had to use before I could gain full access to their website.
If I had bought a bitcoin six months ago it would have cost £9000. Apparently they had dropped in value due to some scare about governments clamping down on bitcoin trading. It was dark money. Dark money could not be traced or taxed. This was causing great vexation to financial institutions and governments around the world.
To my surprise, I learned there were several varieties of Bitcoins. Actually the correct term for digital money is ‘cryptocurrency’. You had the Litecoin, the Ethereum, Dash, Monero, Zcash, IOTA and many others. They varied in value. For example, the Ethereum was worth £47.34 Litecoins were trading at £9.00.
I checked the email again. It gave me a month to make the payment or my identity and my online porn history would be exposed to the world. It was a chilling threat. How I wished I hadn’t looked at porn sites. Okay I’d done nothing illegal, but it would be hugely embarrassing for people to see some of the more extreme videos that I had been watching.
After making a cup of coffee, I sat down with my laptop and started researching cryptocurrencies. I logged onto a website called Crypto Compare, , which had a lively discussion forum and up-to-the-minute prices with bar charts and graphs representing most of the major cryptocurrencies. You could track their yearly price ranges. The first thing that struck me was how volatile Bitcoins were. A year ago, in 2018, one bitcoin was worth £17,000. Seven years prior to that they cost just one US dollar per coin.
I decided to buy 100 Ethereum coins, which cost £4734 plus a 2% selling fee which added another £94.68. The coins were transferred to my secure online wallet. Breathing a sigh of relief, I re-read the ransom demand. It told me where to deposit the Bitcoins. I had two weeks to make the payment. No hurry. I figured I’d wait to the last minute and then send the coins off. I knew that Bitcoins were subject to price changes. What I didn’t figure on, rather stupidly, was how dramatic these changes could be.
The next day I checked my Blockchain account and to my horror saw that all cryptocurrencies including Bitcoins and the Ethereum had plunged in price. A single Ethereum coin had lost £7 overnight and was now worth £40.34. “Shit! Should have sent the coins off straightaway.” I decided to steel myself, grit my teeth and wait a little longer. Maybe the coins would rise in value. They didn’t. They lost another £5 that day. “This is a disaster!” I exclaimed to myself. “A total, fucking disaster!” My investment was now worth £4614. “You stupid idiot,” I said to myself, thinking I had made a big mistake by waiting.
That evening cryptocurrencies were discussed on the BBC news. A financial analyst was explaining why they had dropped in value. “At this price I’ve a good mind to go and buy a few coins myself.” His remarks sent ripples of optimism through the cryptocurrency market. Confidence rose and the price of Bitcoins rocketed.
I was learning a lot and quickly. Essentially Bitcoins are worthless. Their value is determined by people’s expectations, convictions and beliefs. If people are doubtful they won’t buy the coins. Optimism is the key to the success of cryptocurrencies. If people believe they are going to increase in value, they buy in and the price climbs. It’s as simple as that.
Buying and selling of cryptocurrencies goes on every minute of every day. The price constantly alters. It’s like watching the stock market go up and down. But the stock market closes. Dealers pack up and go home for the night. The digital market never closes. There is no physicality about it. Dealing is done on the Internet. The whole thing is electronic.
I put my computer on and watched the prices climb. Within an hour of the news broadcast the Ethereum had reached its original buying price. Within two hours it had gained £10 per coin and it was rising all the time. Within a week the Ethereum was worth £950 per coin. I decided to leave four coins in my wallet and convert the rest of my investment to cash. Blockchain transferred £92,000 to my bank account. The dealer’s transaction fee was £1820. I sent the remaining coins to the hacker.
A week later I was amazed to hear that the US federal government, the British government, Taiwan government and Chinese government were preparing to clamp down on cryptocurrencies. They wanted to regulate them, make them more accountable. The Internet was like the wild west. Governments had finally decided that it had to be tamed. Crooks were laundering billions of dollars by converting their cash into Bitcoins. People were evading tax. Bitcoins weren’t subject to bankers’ rules or governmental regulations. The political, banking and business elite couldn’t bear the thought of the general public having unrestricted access to money that could not be accounted for.
Within hours of the news the price of cryptocurrencies collapsed. The Ethereum had dropped from £950 to a mere £34. What did I care? I had nearly £92,000 in the bank and I had paid off the hacker. His money was practically worthless. A week after I paid him the value of his coins was a trifling £136. I could hardly believe my good luck and his misfortune. It seemed like the perfect ending to a horrible nightmare. I changed my email address and never heard from the dick brain hacker again. I hope the despicable bastard rots in hell.