Angela Ricketts was sitting in her Colorado home reading a book when she received the unimaginable. A Facebook message from someone she didn’t know threatening to harm her family.
Dear Angela! Bloody Valentine’s Day! We know everything about you, your husband and your children. We’re much closer than you can even imagine.
The sender was from a group called CyberCaliphate that claimed to be operating under the flag of the Islamic State. They told Angela they had hacked her computer as well as her cellphone.
Angela was one of five military wives who received this traumatizing message. But here’s the twist: The message was not sent by members of ISIS.
From Russia With Fear
The reality is it was sent by the same group of Russian hackers who tampered with the 2016 American election. Many people don’t realize that there have long been suspicions that ISIS and Russian hackers occasionally work together to target the U.S. and its citizens.
By hacking the social media accounts of military families, these criminals showed how easy it is for hackers to obtain Americans’ personal information. And by borrowing the identity of another notorious hacking group, they were able to throw off investigators.
If you receive a message like the one Angela Ricketts did, you should always take it seriously. The safety of your loved ones is far too important to brush it off. That being said, here are a few things to keep in mind if you receive a threatening message on social media:
- Do not respond. As much as you may want to tell the person threatening you to rot in you-know-where, never respond or give them any indication they have successfully intimidated you. You may receive more threats and get into a back-and-forth argument — which is pointless when you are dealing with trolls. Also, if they make any sort of demands (such as a ransom) to stop the threats, do not comply. I assure you this will only make things worse. There is a reason the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.
- Report to the police. Now, I’m not a lawyer, but it’s my understanding that in order to file a police report, law enforcement requires the threat to be specific. For example, if you receive a message that says, “I’m going to stab John as he walks to his car after leaving his job as a waiter,” then you should absolutely file a report. Most police departments will even let you file online. I realize it’s difficult to know for sure how serious an anonymous threat is, but you should file a police report if you can in case the threats continue or something happens. Don’t forget to keep copies of all documents related to the threat so you can help the police build a case if necessary.
- Tell everyone. You shouldn’t feel stupid or ashamed to share the threat with everyone in your life including family, friends and co-workers. These people can help keep an eye out for you. Or maybe one of them has received a threat as well. In other words, if 20 people you know all receive a similar threat, most likely it’s some sort of scam and not something you need to stress over. But if the threat is very specific to you, then you need to notify everyone so those close to you know what kind of danger to look out for. If you have children, this includes contacting their teachers and school administrators.
- Have a plan of defense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a gun guy. I always carry concealed wherever I’m legally allowed to do so. However, I understand that not everyone is comfortable carrying a gun. That being said, you have to have something with which to defend yourself. This could be a stun gun, tactical pen or flashlight. Whatever your weapon of choice, make sure you have a plan and know how to defend yourself. In addition, take extra safety precautions at home such as using an alarm system and setting up security cameras. And remember to change up your routine — don’t leave your house at the same time every day to go to work.
Finally, follow your instincts. You know yourself better than anyone else, which means you can probably determine if the threat is real or not. Depending on the situation, you might be able to tell whether the threat is from a skilled hacker or an internet troll who is just trying to scare you.
No matter what, always trust your gut and remember these tips to help you protect your loved ones.