A lot has been going on in the last few months and I haven’t had much of a chance to write. A contract that allowed me to work remotely from Seattle ended, and I’ve started a commitment working for a firm in San Francisco, much of the time onsite. As I have often done in the past, I’m staying in the San Francisco East Bay, as I mentioned in my last post How to catch an IMSI catcher, near the Albany-Berkeley border. The mobbing harassment continues to move with me, adapting and changing with the environment, but there are some notable differences.
Real estate mobbing, as the mobbers of northeast Seattle boasted at its opening now more than three years in the past, combines the techniques of detectives—surveillance—with the techniques of cell phone “mobbers” (cyberbullies). With this convergence between the surveillance technologies of the physical world and the cruelty of the virtual one, the mobbers boasted as they began to harass me out of my home, that they would “make history.” It was this kitchen sink approach to harassment, this hack combining techniques and technologies old and new, that was supposed to “clear” me from my rental property and force my landlords to sell to speculators.
Cyber-crime seems to be the tactic du jour for evicting tenants and turning over properties. Hard to figure out and harder to prove because of its novelty and the lack of investigative resources to combat digital crime, real estate mobbing provides another example of criminals on technology’s bleeding edge. But I’m not the first to encounter an obvious attempt to turn over a property by dirty tricks. Long before I started writing about mobbing, there were cases of dirty detectives trying to “get something” on tenants or “setting them up” in attempts to constructively evict. And these days, tenants’ advocacy groups are beginning to receive reports of digital crimes whose goal is to constructively evict. Take, for example, the NYC tenants’ organization that told me they’ve seen cases of cyber-defamation used to do the dirty work of “tenant relocators.” “Clearing by smearing,” as the mobbers of northeast Seattle call it, has never been so easy.
Mobbing as I’m being mobbed in Seattle, makes clear that it’s not necessarily landlords who attempt to evict. It’s worse. Mobbing, here in northeast Seattle, is a technique practiced by nasty neighborhood watches, real estate speculators and, based on all appearances, a technique that appears to be known and supported by at least some real estate agents. This means that the practice is not limited to fly-by-night speculators but is a hidden, criminal business practice. And why not? The more properties that are turned over and put to market, the greater the profit to those who sell houses. My mobbing utilizes a host of players, not the least of which includes real estate agents from a large Washington real estate company who have conveyed threats to me and to my landlords, supposedly on behalf of their “clients,” that appear to be part of an organized drive to turn over rental homes for speculation and redevelopment.
Mobbing, a crime concealed by threats of civil action as well as bullying by civil action, represents a potent convergence of technologies that becomes especially difficult for the victim to survive.
The problem with cyber-bullying is that the victim can just turn off the phone. Theoretically, anyway. In actuality, there is malware that can allow a rogue agent to more or less take over your phone. But if a cell phone “mobber” (and cell phone bullying is also called “mobbing”) can only command your attention over the phone—and your attention is what any harasser wants, she has limited control over you. This is why cyber-criminals need the-man-on-the-street, your street, and preferably next door.
The problem with old-school surveillance is that it lacks reach. Physically stalking someone, “trailing” them, creates tremendous exposure, it’s expensive and time-consuming, and keeping the victim close is not always easy.
But once you pair surveillance with cyber-crime, the “target,” as the mobbers let me know I was, has nowhere to run. What’s more, the techniques of both modalities—little known by those who have no use for them—are likely to cause confusion.
Consider, for example, the use of focused (“directional”) sound. This is straight out of the toolkit of the dirty detective, complete with parabolic loudspeaker. Add the games that hacking stalkers play, like stalking a “target” across the WiFi networks she traverses or putting a harassing machine into the air in the form of a prosumer-level drone. It doesn’t take much more than this use of “new technology,” to borrow a phrasing that once heralded the Microsoft Windows NT operating system, to make the reporting victim sound as though she’s telling a tall tale. And this is if she even begins to understand the means that are being used to harass her, something that most probably don’t stay in the mobbing long enough to comprehend. Like Windows NT, the goal of the mobbers in combining the techniques of physical surveillance with the virtual reach of the digital realm was to achieve portability of the platform.
Each of the techniques from the mobbers’ toolkit—WiFi stalking, the use of directional sound (parabolic speakers), shortwave radio and TV transmitters, the use of Alaska Airline’s in-flight entertainment system or even the use of drones to give chase and emit harassment—is targeted to a specific environment, a different terrain. Every time the victim changes her environment, the mobbers shift to the formation and strategy that keeps her within reach. Combine the mobbers’ short-range techniques with long-range technologies and you have an attack vector for every location, at least within the range that the mobbers are willing to travel across borders and over routers. I’ve tested the willingness of the miscreants mobbing me to travel, with trips south to California and north to British Columbia. If they’re not apprehended before Fall, we may just find out if they will go so far as to follow me to Europe in hopes that never-ending stalking will finally vanquish me from my Seattle home. Without the foothold and standing of a citizen, how would the mobbers of northeast Seattle negotiate the density of a European city, how would they con officers of the law who are accustomed to domestic terrorism, how would they infiltrate the infrastructure of a foreign architecture or a GSM network that requires international calling? Perhaps for Europe, they would have to fall back to following over the Internet and maybe over VoIP; sometimes stalking looks too much like stalking.
Real estate mobbing is a real estate scam. How can it be otherwise, at least as the mobbers of northeast Seattle attempt it. Because their central thesis, the one that they rely on to make good their crime by ensuring that no one believes the story of their victim, is that the victim is crazy. From the mouths of the mobbers, this is just another defamation that will ruin the reputation of the victim and make it impossible for him to get help as he tells his wild stories of hoaxes and harassment. What is stunning is how easily the police and other investigative authorities may be taken in by the defamation. I suspect that a forensic interviewer should be able to tell the difference between the tale of a paranoid schizophrenic and the tale of a victim. Perhaps an investigator who is familiar with harassment using shortwave radio or even one who simply understands how a TV transmitter might affect the devices in a neighboring house, would see victim description of how the harassment is modulated or attenuated, in short, description of how the nature of the harassment changes, as the key to exposing the crime.
In much the same way that I have adapted to the modes of harassment thrown at me by the mobbers, they adapt to me. The harassment changes with my environment, with environmental conditions, and with the open networks and available devices. It changes more as I experiment and learn how to blunt at least some of the acoustic leakage-based harassment; as I use the Cujo IoT firewall device at home in Seattle; as I write to the FAA and other authorities about the mobbers’ likely use of rogue drones to apply directional sound while shielding themselves from prosecution; and it changes as I work in a new contract role in San Francisco.
I’ve worked for out-of-state companies for the last two years of being mobbed. This is what I’ve had to do to survive. But this is the first time since the mobbing began that I’ve worked in downtown San Francisco.
My San Francisco workplace is fairly typical. I’m not on the top floor near inlets and outlets cut into the roof for channels of air that run through the building. Nor are there floor-to-ceiling windows unobstructed by the sight of other buildings. The density in San Francisco is too great. And with a view that’s limited to the schmoes at the windows of the building across the street, those sitting along the windows block the light with shades. So if a primary mobbing technique requires line-of-sight access using a drone with a directional speaker of some kind, it’s not going to work in an urbane city where tech and activism coalesce. Characteristic of many workplaces in San Francisco’s downtown core, space is at a premium and workers sit close to one another. Moreover, most spend their work days onsite and the office is consistently populated. And in the competitive tech milieu of San Francisco, infiltrating building systems to harass over speaker-enabled access points is bound to be risky. All told, the weakest point of the San Francisco office environment is probably the personal device.
My first days in this new role were so quiet that I hoped this new location might be one they couldn’t mob. I was wrong. The mobbers just needed time to study the environment and to pinpoint the GPS coordinates of my location, something that probably required no more than my cellphone, which I used in the first days with location services on, to find my way to the work site. Once my phone was stationary, all they’d have to do is map the phones of those around me. Alternately, if they use speaker-enabled access points, the same holds true. Once they know where I sit, all they have to do is map the access points. Because people carry their phones with them, cyber-bullies who select victims within proximity and who mob people with verbal abuse alone may know who their victim is with and when he is alone, based on nothing more than the WiFi access point in use. See the Ars Technica articles, Where’ve you been? Your smartphone’s wifi is telling everyone (https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2014/11/where-have-you-been-your-smartphones-wi-fi-is-telling-everyone/), and The body-worn “IMSI catcher” for all your covert phone snooping needs (https://arstechnica.com/security/2013/09/the-body-worn-imsi-catcher-for-all-your-covert-phone-snooping-needs/).
I could be wrong. I’m not a hacker or a mobber and have limited knowledge of the techniques they likely use. But I am sure the mobbers use the cell phones of others to harass their victims, and I think it’s likely that this may have been more than an accommodation of the fact that I didn’t have a cell phone at the beginning of the mob. Using the cell phones of others besides the “target” is probably strategy, one that makes it difficult for a victim to get forensic evidence of this felony digital crime.
At any rate, tomorrow’s a working day and this mobbing victim needs to get to bed. Let’s call this part 1. More on being mobbed in San Francisco and the Bay Area this coming weekend, if I get a chance. In the interim, I just ran across the Cyberbullying Research Center (http://cyberbullying.org). They appear to be one of a number of sites acknowledging that cyber-bullying affects adults as well as children. Perhaps soon there will be increased attention given to the role of cyber-harassment in crime and the trend for crimes to be effected in the digital realm or to have digital components. Here’s a CRC page that gives a high-level look at how the law regards cyber-harassment across the United States: http://cyberbullying.org/bullying-laws.