If you haven’t watched the hilarious “African Drug Lord” videos on YouTube, you should check it out — just be aware the videos contain profanities.
In his videos, YouTuber “VirtuallyVain” scares the hell out of video gamers by pretending that a seemingly random person from Africa with a thick accent knows their names, location, and sometimes even their phone numbers.
It sounds terrifying for the prank’s victims, as there’s a sense of total helplessness when a person from a foreign place with unclear intentions and capabilities reveals private information they thought was private.
For the rest of us watching, the videos are hilarious. And Vain will get in touch with his “victims” after the prank to reassure them that everything is OK, they haven’t been hacked, and he asks them permission to appear in his YouTube videos. He’s doing it for a laugh, as well as a “public service” to show you that “your information is not safe.”
I spoke with VirtuallyVain, who keeps his identity secret and chose to simply be called “Vain,” to find out how he gets a gamer’s information for his pranks, and what tips he has for anyone who wants to boost their privacy online.
How he gets your information.
“What I’m doing is not hacking at all, nothing I do is illegal,” Vain told me. “It’s basically when people are irresponsible with the information they post online.”
For his specific videos that center around pranking online video gamers, Vain focuses on revealing two main pieces of information to scare them: their names and where they are.
Vain says he can find a name by “researching their gamer tag (a nickname you use for online multiplayer games) or their username in different avenues that might provide more information.”
That part isn’t the scariest. It’s when the “African Drug Lord” reveals he knows where you are at that very moment.
Once Vain gets a name that’s linked to a gamer tag or username, social media will essentially do the work for him, as he can potentially find your location and even your phone number from a Facebook account.
Don’t have your phone number listed on Facebook? Doesn’t matter, there’s another completely legal website called Whitepages.com that lets you type in a name to find out a bunch of information, like a phone number.
Don’t have your location listed on Facebook, either? Piece of cake. “The easiest most guaranteed information you can get” is from your IP address, which reveals where the computer you’re using is located. Vain can get your IP address from the online video game pretty easily and legally.
Go on then, do your worst
Believing that I was responsible with the information I post online, I asked Vain to use his legal methods to see what he could find out about me after of our Skype call. About five minutes after we hung up on Skype, he called me on my cell phone. The thing is, I never gave him my cell phone number, I never publicly posted it on any social media platform, and it’s not on Whitepages.com.
The Matrix, Warner Bros
He then emailed me with two addresses, one of which was my old address, and the second was my current one. Again, I didn’t think that information was available anywhere.
“There are some places that you can’t even think of where you use your username where you would also use your name, address, or phone number,” he told me. Indeed, he got my phone number from somewhere I never would have thought he could get it from.
Vain says that a lot of people assume he’s using a method called “social engineering,” which is fraudulent. It’s when someone pretends to be someone else to obtain a victim’s information. For example, a person looking to get information about you could call your cell phone provider posing as you or even the service provider’s representative to transfer your phone number to a new SIM card.
But Vain doesn’t do that, or anything else illegal or fraudulent.
So how do you protect yourself from someone with malicious intents?
- You’re less at risk if you have a common name.
- “Have a reserved alias or username and in no way make any connections towards your personal self.” That means any account you have online shouldn’t link to you. When you sign up for anything online that requires an email, use a separate email to your personal email that’s dedicated to online accounts, and don’t make any reference of your name or personal details in that email address.
- “Use a VPN (virtual private network).” A VPN will mask your IP address with a different IP address, so anyone trying to find it won’t see your actual IP address.
- “Ask your internet service provide for a dynamic IP address,” where your internet service provider will continuously change your IP address.
- “Ask to have your information removed from Whitepages.”
At the end of the day, however, Vain told me “nobody’s safe, we live in a time where our attacks are better than our defences, so I think it comes to a point where you have to acknowledge the fact that you are susceptible to this.”
But before you unplug to go live in the woods where no one can find you, Vain reassured me that “for those who aren’t a target, you’re pretty much safe. It’s very rare that someone would target you for no reason.”
Still, you don’t want to make it easy.
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