honeypots

This is an essay about honeypots and responsible disclosure procedures when a (likely) honeypot is identified. Before we get there, however, I’d like to set the stage with an historical reference.

In a classic paper from 1993 (“Blackmail, Privacy, and Freedom of Contract” ), the inestimable Judge Richard Posner introduces the subject as follows:

“Blackmail is an exotic crime, and quite possibly, as we shall see, a rare one. But it exerts considerable fascination at both the popular and theoretical level, and it has evoked a substantial literature to which this Article seeks to contribute by emphasizing economic and strategic considerations, positive and empirical analysis, the relation between blackmail and private law enforcement and between blackmail and the right of privacy, and the neglected but theoretically illuminating case of blackmailing a person about an involuntary condition such as sexual preference.” {boldface added}

Since the time that article was written, much evidence exists to indicate that the prevalence of blackmail – and extortion crimes, more broadly – has increased substantially. Whereas this formerly “exotic crime” was limited primarily by geographic proximity and the difficulty of gathering compromising information on targets/victims, in the post-networked world of today it is possible – even trivial – to accomplish the entirety of a blackmail scheme from a keyboard. From “sextortion” rings to the recent round of webcam hijacking scams, crimes that promises to – as Judge Posner puts it – “trade money for silence” are a booming online industry.

Apart from noting the growing relevance of the crime itself, I don’t have anything substantive to add to the legal literature on blackmail (which is extensive and fascinating), nor the technical literature regarding attack vectors commonly associated with blackmail or extortion crimes (again, a fascinating and extensive field of study). We all know that blackmail is classified as a criminal activity across every legal jurisdiction, and we all know that there’s a whole bunch of ways that attackers may seek to obtain the kind of information that puts them into position to attempt the crime of blackmail.

What I’d like to address today is the subject of online honeypots, as a form of information gathering attack, and the question of how those of us who may discover and document such honeypots (and blackmail efforts fuelled by information obtained from them) should disclose these attacks publicly in the most appropriate, ethical, and effective manner so as to prevent criminals from using them as a component of blackmail schemes.

Full disclosure: I myself was once targeted by a blackmailer/extortionist named Randall “zoobuster” Pepe (a zoosadist and profoundly evil human being), in the late 1990s; the episode is briefly covered in Carreen Maloney’s “Uniquely Dangerous,” for those who are interested in the details. My response to Randy was simple: “go fuck yourself.” He released the information with which he had tried to extort me and, when that was unsuccessful in achieving his aim of using my intransigence as a warning to his other victims of what the cost of non-cooperation would be, he began a years-long smear campaign during which he simply made up negative information about me and circulated it to anyone with a connection to me. That’s no longer blackmail, obviously, however at the outset one of Randy’s signature crimes was extortion based on (more or less) factual details regarding his targets.

(An unsettling, and amazingly still relevant, coda to the Randy Pepe extortion story is that Randy found his most effective purveyors of the disinformation he made up about me – which he collected in documents he infamously referred to as his “dossiers” – to be other zoophiles who had one or another disagreements with me and were willing to spread the “dossier” about me and thereby add a patina of legitimacy to it… in many cases, when I was able to identify the individual zoos doing this they not only admitted that they knew the dossier contained entirely false materials but that they were actively and knowingly collaborating with Randy Pepe to circulate them; a US-based zoo who used the name “Bernard” amoungst many other personas over the years was the most aggressive of these self-hating zoos but he was, unfortunately, not alone. The “amazing” part of this decades-old story of dishonesty and destructiveness is that some of those old fake smears that Randy Pepe made up about me and circulated in his “dossier” continue to appear as “fact” occasionally in conversations I have with others in our community. Disinformation is a powerful weapon, and it’s taken me decades to learn how to most effectively disarm and neutralise it… a subject best left to a separate essay from this.)

Since that first (and only) serious attempt that someone made to extort me based on my sexual orientation (that was when I was first “outed” as a zoophile, by the way… and the payment Randy had demanded of me to avoid that outing was for me to provide personal details on a fellow zoophile who Randy was already targeting – I refused Randy’s demand even though I’d never actually met the zoo he was targeting, and did so as a matter of foundational ethics and community self-respect), I have developed what can be fairly be described as a small obsession with the topic of blackmail and extortion in relation to zoos and the zoo community. That obsession runs the risk of causing me to make “false positive” errors – identifying extortion schemes where no such scheme exists. I accept that I am at risk of such errors, and I am entirely aware that my personal contempt for those who try to extort or blackmail my fellow zoos can and most likely does make me overly-suspicious in the face of ambiguous data potentially indicative of such crimes occurring.

I haven’t had anyone try to extort me since Randy did, and failed. I am a pretty unpromising victim candidate, for several reasons. One, I’m not in the closet and thus using my sexual orientation as leverage to force me to do things isn’t really going to work (another amazing fact: there are still people dumb enough to try to do exactly that – it was actually attempted back in October, in fact, which I find really funny and sort of sad). Two, and candidly, I’m just too ornery and stubborn to ever accept being coerced in that way and do so without a serious fight. That I told Randy “go fuck yourself” is sort of characteristic of me; I’ve (famously) told the exact same thing to an Assistant U.S. Attorney (Susan Roe), in not-dissimilar circumstances. That I’m stubborn in this way can either be described as me being courageous and strong or (perhaps more accurately) totally irresponsible and reckless. (I also know that, empirically, it has been shown that blackmailers almost never let their victims go until they have bled them dry… and even then they usually expose them anyway; given that, why would anyone trust a blackmailer to keep his/her word?)

However one may choose to characterise my own total rejection of blackmail or extortion targeting me personally, the fact is that I’m just not vulnerable to this crime in the way that almost all of my fellow zoophiles are. That could, I suppose, make me disinterested in the subject altogether – I’m essentially immune at this point. However, the opposite has actually happened and I am (admittedly) more than a little obsessed with the topic and I do everything I can to keep a sharp eye out for such crimes in the community today.

In part, I feel an obligation to do what I can to help prevent others from being attacked in the way that I was when Randy Pepe threatened me all those years ago. The feeling of helplessness, and isolation, and vulnerability… and the way that disgusting people like Randy revel in their power over someone, it just all turns my stomach and makes me really motivated to be a constructive part of efforts to keep it from happening to others. But more than that, I am aware that because of my blackmail-insulated status personally, I am in an unusual position to be able to be really effective in helping to stop blackmail efforts targeting other zoos. Since I’m not at risk myself from these criminals, I can’t be “backed off” with threats that if I try to help others, I will myself be targeted (which is exactly what Randy Pepe attempted to do, actually).

I don’t feel like some anti-blackmail superhero who has the World Police job of stopping blackmail against zoos wherever it may occur. That’d be silly, and not a job I’d ever feel qualified for in any case. Nor do I have any enjoyment or emotional satisfaction from being involved in this kind of anti-blackmail effort; quite the reverse, in fact. Being around the whole subject turns my stomach, reminds me of when I myself was the victim, brings back to my memory all the horrible things I have experienced since I was targeted in that way, and generally makes me feel like I need a long shower to wash off the ugly when I am involved in this subject. Right now, as I type this essay, I could be doing any of countless other things that are much more attractive to me.

However, I choose to do what I can and I actually believe that a constructive engagement with this topic is, within reason, a healthy part of my recovery from the trauma and damage that came from being a target of this crime. Rather than hiding from it because it hurts, I am facing it and working with it and finding a way to take my own trauma and create from it something positive for others – and for myself. It’s neither easy nor simple, this balance I’ve chosen to pursue… but it’s right and, as long as I keep it within reason, it’s good.

It’s also worth remembering that blackmail and extortion – irrespective of the intended victims – are crimes, and that efforts to prevent and if necessary expose and prosecute such crimes are part of the obligation of being a member of a society based on the rule of law. A different way to describe my approach to blackmail is to say that I don’t turn a blind eye to this crime when I see it taking place.

Which leads to the question of how to most appropriately respond to such situations, and in particular to activities that precede them. In this case, I’m specifically interested in the question of honeypots.

As I’ve collected some basic pointers and guidelines on the topic of honeypots in a recent post in the Cross Species Alliance twitter feed, I’ll not repeat those materials here. That thread – complete with fetching honeypot graphic! – is available here, as background.

The motivation for that particular thread was a particular twitter account that’s been the subject of much discussion amoungst us old-school community participants since it first appeared in October of this year. The account, complete with a discord server targeting zoophiles, uses the handle “ethicalZ” although it’s the discord server that’s of particular relevance in the discussion of honeypots.

Earlier in this essay, I have mentioned the question of “responsible disclosure” in regards to honeypot identification. I’m not aware of any literature or substantive prior art that addresses the question of how to go about publicising the existence of a honeypot targeting a vulnerable minority population such as zoophiles. In technical terms, honeypots are identified and discussed all the time – indeed, honeypotting is done almost as much by white-hat folks nowadays as it is part of the black-hat arsenal. But it’s not the technical question that’s vexing in the case of this twitter account, and the discord server it promotes.

At this point, I’ve chosen to take a blended approach to disclosure. I’m specifically identifying the twitter account in question, and from there the discord server associated with it. I think that’s enough information to responsibly warn the community of my concerns, but not so much that if my assessment is wrong, I’ve harmed anyone (no, I don’t include the possible “harm” to a non-personal, generic twitter handle as being harm to an actual person… particularly a twitter handle that has only very recently appeared out of nowhere). Obviously, I don’t think I’m wrong in my conclusion that this account is, in a word, an anti-zoo honeypot – if I thought I was wrong, I wouldn’t identify the account. At the same time, I’m aware that I could be proved wrong and it is that awareness that balances my duty to disclose the honeypot itself.

Let me start with the arguments against this account being a honeypot (I’m using the term “honeypot” somewhat loosely here, in that the twitter account would be more of a “false flag” in technical terms and it would be the discord server itself that functions as a “honeypot”… I’m blending the two, merely for ease of use in this essay, and I trust readers are able to remember the finer nuances in their own thinking on the subject). First off, the person(s) running the account, in so many words, deny that they are running a honeypot. Rather, they claim that they are a member of the zoo community and are merely seeking, through their promotion of the discord server, to create a “safe place” for zoos to gather and socialise. I’m choosing not to post here more details about the backstory/cover provided by the account in my DM/offline discussions with the person(s) running it; instead, I’m sticking exclusively to what’s been posted in tweets from the account itself.

So the account denies being/running a honeypot and has not publicly admitted to being any such thing. Beyond that, I do not have or purport to have any “chat logs” that include an admission of this by the person(s) running the account. (I put “chat logs” in scare quotes because it is trivially easy to fake text logs, and even if I claimed to have such logs – or “screenshots” of them – I would not waste time posting them as “proof” since they are not in any way independently verifiable). I don’t have an audio recording of anyone talking in first-person about running the account as a honeypot, nor video footage of that, nor… well you get the point. There’s no “smoking keyboard” evidence here.

Further, I’ve not “hacked” anyone’s server or computer or phone to pull from it technical forensic materials that would prove that it is a honeypot. First, doing that is illegal. Second, I’m not an offensive hacking specialist – in fact I have zero skills in that area whatsoever. I’m a defensive technologist and my skills at “hacking” (which are mostly zero) relate to defensive techniques, not to getting into protected systems. Also it’s illegal.

Finally, in terms of evidence against a honeypot, there is no public data that explicitly demonstrates information gathered by this account has been used in an illegal/unlawful way against individuals who have interacted with the account and in doing shared personal data with those running the account. Nobody has made a post saying “here’s the personal info I gathered from everyone applying to join my honeypot discord server, they’re all zoos and I am outing them by posting their info,” and nobody has (as far as I know) claimed publicly that they have been targeted by this account in terms of personal information disclosure.

On the flipside are a number of counterbalancing considerations.

First, the absence of overt public proof of a honeypot is hardly uncommon nor is it, in itself, evidence that the account is not a honeypot in formal logical terms. In fact I’d say that having such proof ever surface is very rare even in circumstances where a website or social media account is absolutely demonstrated to be a false flag or honeypot. It happens sometimes… but it’s really, really rare. Same goes for victims of the honeypot going public with their experience: it happens (maybe?), but for the most part victims of these crimes don’t speak out about them publicly, by definition! Of course, that gets into a grey blur since that means that the absence of evidence is totally inconclusive either way: even non-honeypot accounts/websites don’t generate evidence that they’re honeypots (because they aren’t), and so they all end up looking alike by this measure.

Second, this account appeared at a time when there was a minor shitstorm occurring in the online zoo/furry world. I’ve written tangentially about that elsewhere, in an essay on a related subject, and I’ll not bog down this essay with extensive details. Those close enough to it to be interested likely already know the backstory, and the rest of you good souls aren’t missing anything by skipping over the gruesome details. Suffice to say that any twitter account appearing at that particular point in time is, almost by definition, subject to a bit of justifiable extra scrutiny.

Third, this account has from the beginning of its short existence promoted a private discord server as its pinned tweet. Nothing explicitly wrong with that, of course – however it’s noteworthy, and unusual enough as to be almost unique, frankly. As part of its “vetting” procedure, that discord server requires of “applicants” that they disclose personal details to the server admin (the same person/s running the twitter account) that “proves they are zoos.” Those materials are, by definition, potentially compromising if disclosed publicly. I will say, based on a few decades of front-line experience with (as admin, host, and/or participant) zoo community forums, that an explicit “vetting” procedure like this falls (again) somewhere between “extremely unusual” and “unique” in terms of its rarity. Of course, it’s possible such a procedure is done with purely good intentions – agreed. However, that possibility doesn’t itself negate the reality that this procedure and the way in which the server itself is promoted is rare and unusual enough as to be all but sui generis… and also perfectly tailored to the goals of someone running a honeypot attack.

Fourth, this account has – both publicly and in private discussions with me and others – been an explicit apologist for certain other twitter personas who have been aggressively and in some cases violently targeting zoos or alleged zoos in recent months (since October, actually…). There’s, again, nothing inherently wrong with taking an unusual position on a topic like this – zoos are, if anything else, ornery and contrary by nature and will argue on even what might be assumed to be the most basic of questions like whether those targeting zoos are to be welcomed or treated as the threats they obviously are. Still, to repeat what’s sort of a mantra here, it’s quite unusual (although not unique) for a self-professed “zoo” to be actively encouraging other zoos to let their guard down around personas who expressly broadcast hatred towards zoos (which hatred has in at least one example crossed over into illegal activity – more on that as circumstances permit me to share).

Those four elements of concern are supported by public data, and anyone who so chooses can confirm their authenticity by their own review of public data. My interpretation is of course subject to question; the data underlying it, for these four elements, are not.

From there, I have a bucket-full of elements of concern that come from private/offline discussion with the person(s) running this “ethicalZ” account. At this point I am choosing not to share specific details of these discussions, as I have noted above, both because any citation of such on my part can’t be independently verified and thus aren’t to be relied on beyond my own reputation for speaking the truth and because I am balancing responsible disclosure of such details with the possibility that I’ve generated a false-positive honeypot warning here and thus disclosing “personal” details could prove harmful to an actual human being and fellow zoo. That risk is largely obviated by my decision to (for the time being) withhold specific private-discussion details from public disclosure. Rather, I’m going to point out some general areas of concern.

  • The account has, in discussions with me, suffered from some internal logical consistency errors in discussing its purported personal history, during the past 60 days or so: biographical details have varied, elements of prior discussions have been forgotten or contradicted in later discussions, prior admissions have been denied until they were quoted back at which point no cogent explanation was offered, and so on. This may indicate that more than one different person has been involved in “running” the account, and that the cover story for the account isn’t perfectly shared amoungst those doing so.
  • The account has failed to provide any method to independently verify its claims of being a zoo. This is a tough one, obviously, as “proof” of this sort isn’t simple to confirm and I’ve not actually asked for any such proof. I’ve, instead, repeatedly expressed the concern that there’s no evidence to support the “I’m a zoo” backstory of this account. Specifically, I’ve wondered at whether there’s not some other community member who could “vouch” for this person. There isn’t – when asked, the account comes up with other newly-hatched (or nonexistent) twitter accounts of “zoos” to support its claim of identity. It’s of course entirely possible for a genuine zoo to be very private about personal details – it’s hardly a news flash to me that this is the case. And I’d be the last person to push anyone to provide personal details of themselves to me or anyone else – I have a few decades of publicly-verified history to back up that statement of my way of doing things. Even so, the total lack of any supporting data is of note.
  • The account has, on one occasion, attempted to convince me to “admit” to several bizarre allegations that aren’t factually true. When I declined to do so, it got angry to the point of abusive – totally at odds with the normal cover personality it presents. I commented on how unusual this was to see, and that caused more confrontational rhetoric until the account discontinued the chat session and never mentioned the topic again. As I told the account later, I know of no zoo who would ever attempt to “trick” a fellow community member into any kind of admission of that sort – of any sort, frankly. It was totally inappropriate, contrary to the account’s backstory, and frankly inexplicable. I took it as a very ham-handed attempt to gather “dirt” on me to use as leverage in the future; perhaps others would have taken such an attempt differently, but to me it was very clear.
  • This account effectively refused to participate in a voice-based talk with me using any of a selection of private and encrypted voice-chat applications (Signal, Wire, Discord, Telegram, etc.) that allow for voice calls without disclosing any personal information of the callers to each other. I asked for such a talk to happen so I could hear an actual human voice behind the account, and so I could perhaps compare that voice over time to see if it was at least the same person. The reasons for ducking such a call that the account provided to me were, frankly, incoherent. Eventually the account began simply stalling for time – again with incoherent justifications – and in the end “went dark” on me, conveniently enough, before any voice call could take place. My suspicion is that the person running the account when I asked for voice calls would have had an easily-identifiable human voice of a class that wasn’t aligned with the purported cover story of the account itself: for example, a gender mismatch (account claims to be male, but voice is female).
  • This account provided certain semi-biographical details of an intimate nature to me that were biologically impossible and contrary to empirical reality. I did not ask for such details, but rather they were offered by the account to “prove” its claimed backstory. When the details were presented, it was immediately and obviously clear to me that they were not based on any actual events, but rather were artificially pieced together from second- and third-hand accounts. When I asked gentle follow-up questions, the answers that were provided were even more obviously at odds with reality. This conversation was so bizarre, and so uncomfortably fake, that I’d say it is up near the top of my memory of bizarre discussions I’ve had in my life – and that’s a pretty long list, to be blunt. When I pointed out, gently, that the details provided didn’t match up with the reality of how such things actually work (which I know from firsthand history, as would any other community member), the account almost immediately discontinued the discussion and, mere hours later, “went dark” with me publicly.
  • Finally, after the above-cited “going dark” action on the part of this account, it posted a (characteristically) incoherent explanation involving me trying to coerce it into providing “personal information” or some such, in order to use that information as leverage. This allegation is fascinating and instructive for two reasons. One, of course, I have an extraordinarily well-established reputation for respect of the privacy of others – and even more so of fellow zoos. That respect has been a subject of consternation specifically referenced by anti-zoo bigots on several occasions, including law enforcement seeking to persecute zoos by forcing me into “implicating” community members by threatening me with extreme punitive sanctions personally if I wouldn’t break the privacy of other zoos. Claiming I tried to get info from a zoo so I could disclose it, or threaten to do so, is absurd on its face – there’s no other way to say it. A darker comment on this allegation is that it maps to exactly the behaviour that I’ve documented and questioned on the part of the person(s) running this false-flag twitter account: anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of dealing with seriously dishonest people has probably seen that kind of “projection” take place, where the liar accuses everyone around them of being liars. It’s a signature “tell” of a certain kind of scammer and/or personality type; to a degree, I suppose, we all tend to accuse others of our own sins (myself included). That this account accused me of doing exactly what this account is doing is, for me, the nail in the coffin of the cover story that it’s a legitimate account and not a honeypot.

I have invested many hours in talking with this account over the past month or so – too many hours for me to want to admit. I did so in hopes that the account would prove to be legitimate, and my concerns to be unfounded. I wanted to be wrong; I still do. However, I wasn’t willing to simply accept half-baked explanations or excuses from the account even as it was harvesting sensitive personal information from zoos showing up at its private discord server. So even though I’d again and again try to give the account the chance to just do one thing that would really back up its story enough for me to let the issue rest, it never did. Not once. Instead, every time we talked there’d be at least one more red flag. Eventually they all add up in a way that’s simply impossible to ignore.

In the end, others may review the information I’ve shared and come to a different conclusion than I have. Fair enough. I’m not selling anything here, and indeed I have exactly zero to gain from this situation either way. What I do have is an obligation to do is to present my conclusions and the reasons for it, and to ensure that others have the opportunity to make their own well-informed decisions.

Throughout this past month or so, I have been very upfront with the person(s) running the “ethicalz” account that I had doubts about its authenticity. I haven’t made those accounts public, since I was still hoping to find my concerns unfounded. However, in private I have been consistent and honest about my initial suspicions and I have asked many times for help in assuaging those suspicions in a way that would allow me to put them to rest. I have gone further than that, in fact, and I have repeatedly explained why I feel so strongly about the issue of honeypots and blackmail, on a personal level. Every time I did that, I got a dismissive response – to me that was not a good sign, and looking back I can see why.

Although there are some additional technical/forensic data that support my conclusion that this account isn’t what it claims to be – and that it is a honeypot – I am not sharing those data in this essay for three reasons. One, none of those data are so overwhelmingly convincing that by themselves they would convince an observer that I am correct, and thus sharing them doesn’t really help to clarify the issue substantively. Two, those data have a certain amount of personal nuance to them and posting them would be potentially harmful if it turns out I’m wrong and the account is not a honeypot; I’m not talking about name and address kinds of data, much more diffuse than that. Even so, I’m not comfortable with a public sharing of them given the less than 100% confidence I have. Finally, there are ongoing tasks behind the scenes that strongly encourage such data to be kept in-hand for the time being. I can’t say more than that, other than to say that it is possible this will change in the future. Suffice to say that there is some extra justification for my personal conclusion that this account is a honeypot, beyond what I’ve posted here – not overwhelming justification at this point, but extra that adds to my conclusion and confidence that I’m not wrong.

In summary, my conclusion at this point and based on what I know is that the account is a honeypot. I am confident in that conclusion to a strong degree – not to a complete or overwhelming degree. I am confident to a very high degree that the account is not what it claims to be, even though it could be some other kind of fake than a honeypot, in theory. I would strongly recommend that community members not share sensitive personal information with this account or discuss anything in its promoted discord server that is in any way compromising in nature. However, it is not my role to stop people from doing as they so choose and it is possible others will disagree with me and make different choices.

I will be keeping an eye on this account, and its discord server, going forward. Obviously, given my conclusion that the account is illegitimate, my concerns about the server being used for criminal purposes aren’t something I’d ignore – even though it’s not relevant to me, personally. Although this persona has banned me from the discord server (which is telling), several other folks who are present there are helping to make sure that any overt misbehaviour there is noted and known more broadly. Finally, there’s been some personal information intentionally “seeded” into the vetting process in the past month by me, such that if that information is misused I will know and thus will have absolute proof that the server – and the account running it – are honeypots. If and when that happens, I will of course share the justification publicly.

This essay started with a discussion of blackmail, and I am ending on that topic as well. Nobody runs a honeypot like this just because they are bored; they are run to harvest sensitive information. And no such harvesting by an illegitimate mechanism such as a honeypot is done for legitimate purposes; by definition, the ends to which such information are put are nefarious and/or criminal. There is no “good” explanation for why someone runs a fake twitter account for months, and lures people into a honeypot discord server – it’s a bad scene and it absolutely is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to more bad things going on behind the scenes.

At this point there is considerable evidence that those involved in running this honeypot are also participants in a blackmail/extortion scheme. I am not sharing the details of that yet, because reasons. I am not concerned with whether others reading this “believe” what I have to say about this blackmail, or not, as they are not the intended audience of this section of this essay. Rather, I am speaking to two very precise audiences here:

To those involved in running this blackmail/extortion scheme, I have this to say: if you continue with this, I will do all I can to ensure you are prosecuted and sent to prison for it. It is criminal, and if you actually think you won’t be subject to conviction because your targets are zoos (and others), I am happy to say that you will find out just how wrong you are when the time comes. I have a less than happy history with law enforcement (although I am law-abiding and harbour them no ill-will). However, when it comes to serious crimes like these, I will work with prosecutors with integrity and professionalism so that they can do their job and put you and your “friends” in prison. And trust me that there are good prosecutors out there who, whatever their feelings about me as a (law-abiding and entirely non-criminal) zoo, will absolutely jump all over your crimes because those crimes are disgusting and cowardly and have no place in a healthy society.

To those targeted by this (or related) blackmail/extortion schemes, you are not to blame for what’s happened. These people terrorizing you are low-rent scumbags, and they have already made enough mistakes to get them shut down and arrested. You are not alone. If you can safely do so, contact me in any channel that you can use without putting yourself at risk. I will not betray your identity to anyone. I will not take any steps to put you at risk unless and until you say it’s ok: no calls to police, no “rock the boat” actions against your attackers. If all I can do is listen to you for now, I’ll listen. If you want me to do more than that, tell me (securely) and I will if it is within my power.

Overall, this is a little bit of a tempest in the teapot – from what I know, the extortion arising from this is small-scale (although obviously not to its victims). It is possible these criminals will pack up shop and quietly sidle out of view. It is possible this will eventually result in public prosecutions of those involved, and it’s possible it won’t. I might know what’s going on, and it’s also possible I’m still out in left field on this. Time will tell, on some of it.

Meanwhile, I’ve said what’s worth saying and mostly done what’s worth doing. In the big scheme of things, a small-time scam like this is hardly of global importance. Despite that, I’ve done my best to be constructive and to do so without doing any harm to others along the way.

If I’m totally wrong about this, and “ethicalz” is just some community member who somehow threw all these red flags, I hope two things occur. One, I hope it becomes clear that I’m wrong so that I can own that and publicly acknowledge it. Two, I hope you someday understand that doing the right thing and doing the easy or popular thing aren’t always the same. Then again, if you are who you claim to be, you already know this.

Q.E.D.

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