A US student was jailed for 18 months on Monday for hacking the online accounts of Miss Teen USA and more than 100 other women in several countries and threatening to publish nude photographs of them, prosecutors said.
Jared James Abrahams surrendered in September last year to FBI agents probing so-called “sextortion” cases, in which he made demands in return for agreeing not to release the pictures. The investigation involved multiple victims in California, as well as in Canada, Moldova and Russia.
The 20-year-old Abrahams, who hacked into as many as 150 online accounts and forced victims to engage in Skype sessions in which he convinced two teenagers to undress, made a plea deal with prosecutors in November last year.
He pleaded guilty to four counts — three of extortion and one of computer hacking — the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles said.
The most high-profile victim was Cassidy Wolf, who won the Miss Teen USA pageant in August last year. She and Abrahams attended the same school in Temecula, about 150km southeast of Los Angeles. They left the school in 2012.
The plea agreement detailed how, starting last year and continuing until June, the computer science student hacked into computers, e-mail and social media accounts.
The pictures, sometimes nude, were taken from Web cams, the plea deal said, adding that Abrahams “extorted at least 12 young women in their late teens or early 20s in this manner.”
Wolf called investigators in March last year after receiving threatening e-mails containing nude photographs of herself.
The sender said he would distribute the pictures “all over the Internet” unless she either sent him a personal video of herself, joined him on Skype for a five-minute video chat during which she would have to do whatever he said, or sent him “good-quality pics” of herself.
“As digital devices, e-mail accounts and social media accounts now contain the most intimate details of the public’s daily lives, the impact of this type of hacking and extortion becomes more pronounced,” prosecutors wrote. “In some cases, this type of criminal behavior can be life-changing for the victims — especially for vulnerable victims who may feel it is impossible to rebuild their tarnished reputations.”