"Contact the following number to get your account back".
A short message left in your inbox is usually the way a hacker lets you know he has seized control of your entire life. To get your account back you’ll need to pay, but how much depends on the hacker.
We wanted to find out who these criminals hiding in the dark corners of the web are, and how they end up taking advantage of unassuming influencers on social media.
After all, while these phishing messages in our inboxes look like they’re written by a bot, behind them is a person with a story. The desire to find out more about these people led us to do something we definitely don’t recommend you do at home - replying to their phishing messages and bribing them to talk to us.
All it took was $100 worth of bitcoin to convince the first hacker to talk, under the condition of anonymity. While these hackers make money off people’s vulnerabilities and naivety, this specific hacker, let’s call him The Turkish Lira, views himself as a pretty fair person.
"I don't charge more than $450 to $600" he explains to us, "I never push people's budgets, I don't break their hearts, and at the end of the transaction, I always apologize for what I did."
"I don't charge more than $450 to $600. I never push people's budgets, I don't break their hearts, and at the end of the transaction, I always apologize for what I did."
The Turkish Lira has been hacking for the past 9 years. While in school he worked hard and self-taught himself, which is how he gained the knowledge and expertise that has allowed him this line of work. Occasionally he gets work doing cyber security - yes, really - which from a moral point of view he enjoys more. However, hacking social media accounts for ransom is a more lucrative and efficient way to make a quick buck. Ironically many hackers end up working in cyber security and vice versa.
"Occasionally he gets work doing cyber security - yes, really - which from a moral point of view he enjoys more."
He describes viewing himself as an outsider, living on the outskirts of society. "Life is too routine for people with different souls like us. Life online, outside of the regular world, is my everything. The people I chat with without knowing them are more valuable to me than most people I'm with every day".
Both The Turkish Lira and another hacker we spoke with - "The Little Girl Devil" we named him - mentioned a difficult life and childhood. "I've learned everything by myself" he explains, "If you constantly fail and are abandoned by everyone, there's nothing you cannot achieve when you focus more on improving yourself and on what you want".
He's been in the business of hacking for as long as he can remember himself. Like most hackers, he is in it for the money, but he also makes a point of taking down accounts he finds to be a bad influence on young people. "There are accounts on Instagram or Facebook that set a bad example. Many accounts try to redirect you to drugs - or worse.”
His Robin Hood philosophy is that if he’s going to be taking down accounts, he might as well improve the online horizon when possible and keep young people safe. Both hackers refuse to share their monthly income in this line of business, but insist that they return the accounts to their users the minute the ransom is paid.
As we close our conversations, both hackers offer a word of warning to anyone thinking of joining their world. "I don't want any of my friends to get near this job", says "The Little Girl Devil". His counterpart, "The Turkish Lira", concludes: "Those who enter this job will never be able to leave it again".