Miss Teen USA: Screamed upon learning she was ‘sextortion’ victim
(CNN) — The college student accused of hijacking the webcam of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf and other young women is a former high school classmate of the pageant winner.
Jared James Abrahams, 19, was arrested Thursday for allegedly taking nude images of the women using their own webcams, and then blackmailing them to send more explicit material.
Wolf told CNN on Friday that she had no personal connection with Abrahams while they were in high school in Temecula, California.
“When I heard his name it didn’t click right away what he looked like,” she said. “His name is familiar. When I looked at his yearbook picture, I recalled moments when I saw him in the hallways.”
The suspect is accused of taking nude pictures of Wolf while she changed clothes or walked into her room after a shower.
Wolf, 19, said her computer apparently was hacked months before receiving the first threatening e-mail on March 21. At the time, she did not have her current pageant crown and was attending a college in Costa Mesa and lived in an apartment.
“When I got the first e-mail, I read the first three lines and I quickly scrolled through it and saw it was a long e-mail,” she said. “Two photos of me were attached. I literally threw my phone across the room and started screaming. It did not feel real, it was like a horror movie.”
Wolf said she believes the images were taken while she was in high school.
A threat to Wolf allegedly read, “Either you do one of the things listed below or I upload these pics and a lot more (I have a LOT more and those are better quality) on all your accounts for everybody to see and your dream of being a model will be transformed into a pornstar” (sic).
Fears about such hacking are not misplaced.
Last month, it was reported that some high-end televisions with built-in cameras could be turned on without the viewers knowing.
Security cameras, lights, heating control systems and even door locks and windows are now increasingly coming with features that allow users to control them remotely. Without proper security controls, there’s little to stop hackers from invading users’ privacy, stealing personal information or spying on people.
Abrahams is a computer science student. His arrest came six months after Wolf alerted authorities to the “sextortion” scheme.
Authorities executed a search warrant at Abrahams’ home on June 4, at which time he “voluntarily agreed to speak” with a pair of FBI agents. Describing himself in that interview as a college freshman who was good with computers, a criminal complaint said, he admitted using malware and his expertise to “watch his victims change their clothes and … use the photographs against them.”
When he admitted what he’d done, Abrahams said he had 30 to 40 “slave computers” — or other people’s electronic devices he controlled — and has had as many as 150 total, according to the complaint.
Investigators also linked him to at least eight other young women, some of them, like Wolf, from Southern California. Others were from as far away as Moldova.
Wolf said she became aware of the hack after she got a Facebook alert that someone had tried to change her password. She then noticed other social media accounts were not “acting the same.”
The pageant contestant, now attending school in New York, replied to a couple of e-mails that day in March. “I asked him, ‘Please don’t do this to me.'”
Authorities advised her not to have further contact. The FBI used evidence from her computer and iPhone to build its case, Wolf said. “It took them two to three months to figure out who this was.”
Wolf told CNN said has been on a “roller coaster of emotions.”
“It’s kind of hard to explain my emotions about him. One one hand I am upset. … how he traumatized me,” she said. “I feel, on the other hand, sorry for him. He went to high school with me.”
Wolf says she is now on a campaign to raise awareness about the risks that technology can expose users to.
She has spoken to students about steps they can take. “It can happen to them because they are growing up in a generation where technology is so advanced.”
“Be careful what you are doing on your computer,” she advised. “There are cameras on computers and iPhones. Be careful of what you are doing in front of your camera.”
Wolf said she used her computer responsibly but “did not know how dangerous a computer can be in the hands of someone else.”
Change passwords on e-mail and social media accounts. Make them difficult. Delete cookies and browsing history.
And, when not communicating with a loved one or friend, put a sticker over the computer webcam.
By Phil Gast, Marianno Castillo and Greg Botelho