Temecula Student Arrested in Sextortion Case Involving Multiple Victims
|U.S. Attorney’s Office September 26, 2013|
ORANGE COUNTY—A Temecula college student accused of anonymously hacking several online accounts to extort young females into sending him nude photos and video or submitting to five-minute Skype sessions was arrested today on federal extortion charges, announced 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.
Jared James Abrahams, 19, of Temecula, was arrested this morning after surrendering to special agents at the FBI’s Orange County Resident Agency in Orange, California. Abrahams was charged in a federal criminal complaint filed under seal in United States District Court in Orange County on September 17, 2013. The complaint was unsealed this morning, and Abrahams is expected to make an initial appearance in federal court this afternoon.
According to the complaint, the sextortion investigation began around March 2013 and continued for several months as multiple victims’ online accounts were compromised, or hacked, by an individual later identified as Abrahams. According to the complaint, Abrahams used malicious software and tools to disguise his identity in order to capture nude photos or videos of female victims through remote operation of their webcams without their consent. Abrahams contacted some victims using e-mail accounts he had taken over, in some cases. The complaint alleges that Abrahams targeted some victims he knew personally and identified others by hacking into Facebook pages shared by other victims. The complaint alleges Abrahams would generally attach victims’ photos to e-mails he sent them when he made extortionate demands. Abrahams threatened to publicly post compromising photos or video to the victims’ online social media accounts unless the victim either sent nude photos or videos or engaged in a Skype session with him and did what he said for five minutes, according to the complaint.
The FBI was initially alerted to the sextortion activity by an 18-year-old woman, identified in the complaint by the initials C.W. only. C.W. 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. C.W. 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. C.W. later received an extortionate e-mail with nude photographs of her attached. C.W. 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.” C.W. advised the FBI that she has never knowingly taken or allowed anyone to take nude photographs of her, according to the complaint. In one instance, Abrahams threatened C.W. with transforming her “dream of being a model...into a pornstar” if she did not comply with his demands. In e-mail messages, Abrahams heckled C.W. for making her password so easy for him to guess on her Facebook account, according to the complaint.
Digital evidence obtained during a federal search warrant served at Abraham’s residence in June 2013 contained hacking software, as well as images and videos of some of the victims. A forensic analysis of C.W.’s computer revealed evidence consistent with malware and remote administration tools later linked to Abrahams, who used the domain name “cutefuzzypuppy.” The same domain name was also linked to discussion boards in hacker forums by a participant researching, among other things, ways to spread malware and control webcams, according to the complaint.
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. The complaint details Abraham’s alleged contact with various victims from whom he obtained nude photographs and video. In one case, a victim believed to reside in Ireland and identified in the complaint only as M.M. #1 reluctantly complied with Abrahams demands to converse via Skype. According to the complaint, M.M. #1 wrote, “I’m downloading Skype now. Please remember I’m only 17. Have a heart,” to which Abrahams responded “I’ll tell you this right now. I do not have a heart. However I do stick to my deals. Also age doesn’t mean a thing to me.”
During an interview, Abrahams acknowledged that he infected victim’s computers with malware; watched his victims in states of undress; and used photographs to extort his victims, among other admissions, according to the complaint.
Investigators estimate that Abrahams has victimized more women, but they have not identified all the victims whose accounts were allegedly hacked by Abrahams.
Anyone who believes they may have been a victim in this case should contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565. The charge of extortion carries a statutory maximum penalty of two years in federal prison. This is a continuing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistance was provided during this investigation by the Temecula Police Department and the Baltimore Police Department.
This case will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Orange County.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
- FBI Press Relations: 310-996-3343 or 310-420-6441
- Assistant United States Attorneys: Vib Mittal and Joseph McNally: 714-338-350
Sextortion is a type of extortion and/or blackmail of a victim. Typically, the victim is extorted and/or blackmailed with a nude image of the victim. The person committing the sextortion threatens to release the nude image publicly unless the victim, among other things, performs a sexual act. The person committing the sextortion is typically threatening to harm the reputation of the victim by disclosing the nude image.
Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Sextortion:
- Be prudent when posting images online, especially private or compromising content. Once an image or information is on the web, you cannot get it back. This goes for computers, phones, tablets, and other forms of wireless communication.
- If your computer has been compromised and you are receiving extortionate threats, do not be afraid to talk to your parents or to call law enforcement. The situation is not likely to get better but may get worse.
- Ensure your password is difficult for others to figure out. It is wise to use a combination of upper and lower case letters; numbers and symbols.
- Intrusions take many forms, including the unwitting compliance of the computer user. Do not assume your computer’s anti-virus software can safeguard against all intrusions; however always use reliable anti-virus software and keep the definitions up to date.
- 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 without independently verifying that they were sent from someone you know. Unsolicited e-mail messages can contain malware that can infiltrate your computer so a hacker can obtain personal information and/or images, even those you have not posted online.
- Be a responsible Internet user: do not talk to strangers on the Internet or give strangers personal information or images.
- It is okay to be suspicious. If you receive a message with an attachment from your mother at 3 a.m., maybe the message is not really from your mother.
- Visit http://www.fbi.gov to learn more.