SANTA ANA, California – A Temecula college student who hacked into as many as 150 online accounts to extort young females into sending him nude photos and video – or submitting to Skype sessions in which he convinced two teens to undress – was sentenced today to 18 months in federal prison, concluding the latest in a series of federal “sextortion” cases in Southern California.
Jared James Abrahams, 20, was sentenced this morning by United States District Judge James V. Selna.
After being arrested last year by special agents with the FBI, Abrahams pleaded guilty on November 12 to one count of computer hacking and three counts of extortion.
Abrahams targeted young women he knew, and he identified other victims after hacking into Facebook pages. Using hacking software, Abrahams took control of victims’ email accounts, social media accounts and even their computers – which allowed him to remotely turn on web cameras and occasionally take pictures of naked victims.
Abrahams used the nude photos to extort victims by threatening to publicly post the compromising photos or videos to the victims’ social media accounts – unless the victim either sent more nude photos or videos, or engaged in a Skype session with him and did what he said for five minutes.
Several teens and women in their early 20s were victimized when Abrahams posted nude photos to their social media accounts. At least two victims consented to the Skype sessions proposed by Abrahams to keep their photos off the Internet.
“As digital devices, email 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, troubling, and far-reaching,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed with the court. “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. Stated differently, individuals like defendant have the ability to affect a person’s life in frightening ways by using the broad reach of the Internet.”
To avoid become a victim of sextortion, everyone should be prudent when posting images online or to any wireless communication (computer, phone, tablet), especially if the images have private or compromising content. Victims who receive extortionate threats or whose personal accounts have been compromised are urged to contact a parent, trusted adult, or law enforcement, since the situation will only worsen. The FBI was able to quickly identify Abrahams after a victim quickly reported his extortion attempts. As always, computer users are warned to ensure their passwords are difficult for others to guess, avoid opening unverified attachments, and use reliable anti-virus software with updated definitions. Lastly, computer users should cover their webcams when they are not in use.
In previous sextortion cases investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office, a Glendale man was sentenced in December to five years in prison (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2013/142.html), and an Orange County man received a six-year prison term in 2011 (see: http://www.justice.gov/usao/cac/Pressroom/2011/123.html).