Scrolling through his Instagram once again is not what 15-year-old Callum Donovan-Grujicich thought he would be doing 24 hours ago.
It was on Tuesday that a questionable email regarding his account turned his online presence upside down.
“When I clicked on a link, it looked like the Instagram sign-in page,” said Donovan-Grujicich.
“I guess that was giving them the information they needed to get into my account.”
Fast-forward and suddenly he received an email threatening to delete his account forever.
“They told me I had to pay them the money or they would delete it,” said the teen.
What was most distressing for Callum was that his online presence was essential to his growing career as a sculptor.
He had been showing and selling his work online and had garnered tens of thousands of viewers. Losing that was a daunting thought for not only him but his parents, who have helped him from the start.
“It was really awful. It made us feel very helpless and it was really upsetting to Callum,” said his dad, Jeff Grujicich.
They only had two hours before the hackers said they would delete Callum’s account, so they made the painful decision to comply.
“It was maddening to not be able to do anything about it,” Grujicich said.
“Ultimately, we kind of had no choice here. We’re going to pay it, in the hopes that they will do what they’re saying.”
But after the money was transferred, communication went cold, and his account — which boasted more than 50,000 followers — was gone.
“It had been built over such a long period of time. There is so much Callum had invested in it. There was such a base of people following his work,” Grujicich lamented.
The teen had been working on the account, posting his progress on different projects and even selling pieces of art to help him pay for university. His dad says during the pandemic, his son started to hit his stride, working his way to a promising career.
“He taught himself new techniques about realistic scupture and moved to large scale projects,” Grujicich said. “He was documenting that, and getting lots of professional artists fuelling that creative drive.”
“It was getting me recognition,” says Callum. “I realized if that was gone, it would be a lot of difficult to promote my artwork.”
After they asked for help from the company, owned by Facebook, someone confirmed the account had been deleted and could not be retrieved.
“They were just like, ‘it’s gone. sorry,’” Grujicich said.
But after Global News inquired about the story, they asked for his information and Donovan-Grujicich’s account was quickly turned back on. It was a relieving feeling for the young artist who has been building his account over the past four years.
“There was a cheer from both me and my dad,” said Callum.
And the family believes it was after Global News got involved they saw something happen.
“Hundred percent from Global contacting them and getting someone to find it,” Grujicich said.
During the ordeal, Grujicich says dealing with Facebook was not easy. He says when they tried to follow the steps, it was so cumbersome, they eventually gave up and paid the ransom.
“It seemed that every path we tried to go down was blocked,” he said. “The instructions led to a dead end.”
“There was no way to contact anyone again, once we sent the report.”
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Although this story has a positive ending, police say phishing schemes like this happen often. Det. Const. Martin Franssen with the financial crimes unit at Durham Regional Police says it’s important to protect yourself when people ask for things, such as your credentials.
“Consider whether they really need that information and limit yourself for what your prepared to give them,” Franssen said.
Police say the best way to protect yourself is to create passphrases instead of words, in order to make the password more difficult to guess.
Officials with Facebook weren’t available for comment but offered a statement.
“We know that losing access to your account can be a distressing experience,” said Meg Sinclair, head of communications for Facebook Canada.
“We encourage people to strengthen their security by turning on two-factor authentication and alerts for unrecognized logins.”
For Callum, he says he’s learned his lesson for next time an email comes through.
“Make sure it’s legit because you could run into a lot of problems,” he said.
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