Law Enforcement Cracks Down on New Area of Cybercrime: Alleged Online Extortionists Targeting Young Women and Minors

The internet has helped create new categories of criminal offenses under the heading of “cybercrime,” although most of these offenses are simply familiar crimes that have moved online. Law enforcement officials at both the federal and state level have moved recently to crack down on a form of online extortion in which a person obtains sexually explicit or otherwise compromising photographs of others, often young women or minor girls, and makes demands in exchange for not releasing the photographs to others. The demands themselves are sometimes of a sexual nature, which has led the media to call the phenomenon “sextortion.” Criminal investigations have drawn on state and federal laws regarding hacking, identity theft, extortion, and sexual assault, in order to bring indictments against alleged “sextortionists.”

A typical scheme first involves a person obtaining photographs of an alleged victim. This might be through direct solicitation, such as by befriending the alleged victim on social media sites; or pictures might be obtained by hacking an alleged victim’s computer or mobile device. The person then notifies the alleged victim that they have the pictures, and threatens to publish them online or send them to family members, employers, or others, unless the alleged victim complies with the person’s demands. These demands could be for money, but may also be for the alleged victim to send more sexually explicit pictures, to engage in sexual activity via webcam or online chat, or to engage in real-life sexual activity. Schemes that take place exclusively online between individuals in different states could result in federal charges, while those that take place locally may be handled at the state level.

Federal charges for hacking and identity theft have resulted from several well-publicized schemes. A federal judge sentenced a California man to ten years in prison in December 2012 for hacking into multiple celebrities’ online accounts, downloading “revealing photos,” and posting them on the internet. He was also convicted for posting stolen photos of two women he knew personally. Another California man pleaded guilty in July 2013 to identity theft and unauthorized access of a protected computer, after prosecutors accused him of hacking about 350 women’s online accounts, downloading pictures, and then threatening to post them online if they did not agree to send him explicit photos or videos of themselves. The FBI arrested a man in late September on hacking charges for a similar scheme, and seized computers, cell phones, and “hacking software” from his home.

A state-level prosecution for sexual assault took place earlier this year in San Antonio, Texas that involved sexually explicit images obtained both voluntarily and involuntarily. A man was accused of befriending a teenage girl on the social media site MySpace, exchanging nude photos with her, then threatening to post her nude photos online unless she met him for sexual activity. In another incident, he was accused of making a video of himself and a 17 year-old girl, which he also threatened to post online. He pleaded no contest to a variety of sexual assault charges in July.

Criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has represented west Texas defendants for over twenty years. He helps clients understand their rights, guides them through the criminal justice process, and works to ensure that state officials abide by court rules and respect individuals’ Constitutional and procedural rights. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Prosecutors Charge Alleged Proprietor of Online Marketplace for Illegal Drugs, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 3, 2013
Teen’s False Statement on Facebook Results in Harassment Conviction, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, September 18, 2013
Devices that Track Cell Phone Signals Violate Fourth Amendment, Say Privacy Advocates, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, February 28, 2013

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