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FBI arrests suspect in Miss Teen USA 'sextortion' case

Tim Harbaugh / AP

This photo released by Miss Universe L.P., LLLP shows Miss California Teen USA 2013, Cassidy Wolf, being crowned Miss Teen USA 2013 at the Atlantis, Paradise Island and Resort in The Bahamas on Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.

The FBI has arrested a man who may be an acquaintance of newly crowned Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf in the "sextortion" case involving Wolf and at least seven other women.

Jared James Abrahams, 19, of Temecula, Calif. is charged with extortion for allegedly using malicious software to control the computer webcams of victims and take nude photographs or videos, and then allegedly sending emails to the victims threatening to publish the photos or otherwise harm their reputations.

A criminal complaint unsealed Thursday alleges Abrahams installed malicious software known as "malware" on the victims’ computers to access their data and control their webcams and then used a "Virtual Private Network" to disguise his identity when he sent threatening emails.

During execution of a search warrant at his home 75 miles southeast of Los Angeles, alleges the complaint,  the suspect “admitted to infecting people’s computers with malware; watching his victims change their clothes; and using photographs against his victims.” He also said that a victim identified in the complaint as “C.W.” was the first person whose computer he hacked, and that he knew her personally.

The complaint says that the FBI first learned of the alleged sextortion in March via 18-year-old "C.W.," who became concerned when she received an alert from a social networking site saying her password had been changed. She said she then received "an extortionate email" with nude photographs attached. The sender, according to the complaint, said that C.W. should comply with his demands or have her nude photographs "plastered all over the internet."

According to the complaint, he threatened to turn her "dream of being a model ... into a pornstar."

C.W. told the FBI that she had never knowingly allowed anyone to take nude photographs of her, and had never taken any herself.

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. At least one alleged victim is a minor.

In one instance, says the complaint, a victim identified as M.M. 1 agreed to communicate with Abrahams via Skype. She told him, "I'm downloading Skype now. Please remember I'm only 17. Have a heart." Abrahams allegedly responded, "I'll tell you this right now. I do NOT have a heart!!!"

If convicted, Abrahams faces two years in federal prison. But the investigation is continuing and additional charges haven't been ruled out, according to federal investigators.

Abrahams surrendered to agents at the FBI's Orange County office. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana Thursday afternoon.

Wolf is from Temecula and was Miss Riverside County Teen USA and then Miss California Teen USA before winning the Miss Teen USA pageant last month at the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas. She turned 19 in July and now lives in Orange County. She said in media interviews that she received an anonymous email from someone claiming to have nude photos of her taken via the webcam on her computer.

Wolf also said the author tried to extort her to ensure that the photos were not made public.

The incident, in which someone was able to hack into Wolf's computer and turn on its webcam, is the latest in a string of so-called "sextortion" cases involving individuals who have used email accounts, social media or a computer's own hardware to glean compromising information or images.

A judge sentenced 35-year-old Christopher Chaney of Florida to 10 years in federal prison in December for hacking into the e-mail accounts of celebrities including Mila Kunis, Christina Aguilera and Scarlett Johansson.

In July, Karen “Gary” Kazaryan of California pleaded guilty in a “sextortion” case in which he targeted 350 women and coerced them into showing him their naked pictures. Prosecutors alleged that Kazaryan hacked into the Facebook, Skype and email accounts of his victims to coerce them into removing their clothing on camera.

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