Cyber-Extortion – Jared James Abrahams Arrested
Some people who commit cyber-crime, because they are not immediately arrested, do not believe that law enforcement takes it seriously and brushes away victims. Others think that they can stay hidden because they disguise their online identity. Jared Abrahams now knows better. He faces up to 11 years in prison.
On September 26, 2013, Bill L. Lewis, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, and André Birotte, Jr., United States Attorney for the Central District of California issued a press release announcing the arrest of 19-year old Jared James Abrahams of Temecula, CA. On September 17, 2013, Abrahams was charged in a federal criminal complaint filed under seal in the United States District Court in Orange County. According to the complaint, investigation began around March 2013.
Prosecutors say that over the past two years, Abrahams hacked into the computers of at least a dozen women in their late teens or early 20s from various states and countries, including Miss Teen USA, Cassidy Wolf. Abrahams and Wolf went to high school together.
Abrahams used malicious software and tools to disguise his identity, and captured nude photos or videos of female victims through remote operation of their webcams without their consent. Abrahams knew some of the women, and hacked into Facebook pages shared by other victims. After doing so, Abrahams contacted his victims by email, generally attaching a photo of the victim and threatened that unless they sent him nude pictures or videos, or agreed to 5 minutes on Skype doing as he instructed, that he would publicly post the nude photos or videos on the victims’ online social media accounts.
At least two of his victims gave in to his demands, authorities said.
The FBI was initially alerted to the sextortion activity by 18-year-old Cassidy Wolf, Miss Teen USA. She became concerned that her computer had been compromised after receiving an alert from a social networking site advising of a failed attempt to change her password. She later learned that passwords had been changed for multiple online accounts and that an online profile photo had been changed to a half-nude picture she did not authorize. Later she received an extortionate e-mail with nude photographs of her attached.
Cassidy recognized the surroundings in the photos and believed the images were captured by her laptop’s webcam in her residence several months earlier without her knowledge. The author of the e-mail, later identified as Abrahams, offered C.W. a choice of complying with his demands or having her nude photographs posted “all over the Internet.”
According to a FBI affidavit, Abrahams told Wolf: “Your dream of being a model will be transformed into a porn star.”
Digital evidence was obtained during a federal search warrant served at Abraham’s residence in June 2013. That evidence contained hacking software, as well as images and videos of some of the victims. A forensic analysis of Cassidy’s computer revealed evidence consistent with malware and remote administration tools later linked to Abrahams, who used the internet handle “cutefuzzypuppy.” The same handle was linked to discussion boards in hacker forums by a participant researching, among other things, ways to spread malware and control webcams.
Abrahams gained unauthorized access to the accounts of multiple victims in southern California and Maryland, as well as in countries believed to include Ireland, Canada, Russia, and Moldova, according to the complaint. At least one victim is a minor.
On November 13, 2013, Abrahams pleaded guilty to three counts of extortion and one count of unauthorized computer access. He faces up to 11 years in prison and fines up to $1 million. His sentencing is scheduled for March.
Abraham’s attorney, Alan Eisner said that Abraham has autism and has been under treatment for the past ten-years, and that played a contributing role in the scheme. Eisner said. “Again, I say that not to blame the conduct on anything, not to make an excuse for the conduct, but that’s part of the full picture.”
Extortion is the threat to expose or disclose photos or information to harm the reputation of someone unless that person does what the cyber-criminal wants. As with sextortion, it does not have to involve money. This does not happen only through social media such as Facebook, but any internet source that provides for communicating with targeted victims.
Cassidy Wolf is telling her story nationally to help others.
Warning of cyber-stalking, harassment, extortion and other cyber-crimes is necessary, but it’s also important to share with others how to report it.
When receiving any communication that is suspect, do not delete it thinking that if you ignore it, the person will stop. The situation is not likely to get better and may get worse.
Be prudent when posting images online. Once an image or information is on the web, you cannot get it back.
If you are receiving extortionate threats, do not be afraid to call law enforcement. Ask to speak to a detective in the internet crimes division. Those not trained in investigating cyber-crimes seldom understand that a person does not have to be on the internet to be victimized by extortionate threats.
Turn off your computer when you are not using it. (The majority of computers involved in sextortion cases are laptops; many of the victims chat on social networks so much that they never turn off their machines.)
Cover your webcam when not in use. A webcam can be controlled remotely if a computer has been compromised.
Do not open attachments or links without independently verifying that they were sent from someone you know.
Check for cyber-crime statutes for your state to understand if it distinguishes between cyber-stalking and cyber-harassment.
The Internet Crime Complaint Center has an online form for reporting internet crimes. The Internet Crime Complaint Center partners with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National White Collar Crime Center. Although designed to report consumer crimes, any crime committed using the internet can be reported. After you file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the information is reviewed by an analyst and forwarded to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies with jurisdiction.