Sextortion Scandal for Miss Teen USA?
By Alex Distefano
Despite winning the Miss Teen USA competition earlier in August, Cassidy Wolf is apparently dealing with a nightmare of a scenario. According to the Los Angeles offices of the FBI, the federal agency is investigating whether or not the teen has been the victim of an online plot to extort her of money and/or nude photos.
According to FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller, the Bureau became involved and opened an investigation into Wolf’s (and others) claims of online sexual harassment and extortion, in March. “This is a pending investigation,” Eimiller told the Weekly. Although no arrests have been made, Eimiller said that authorities have a good idea in terms of a suspect, but declined to give more information. “Our agents believe they’ve identified the source of alleged criminal activity,” she said. “Additional info will be released when charges are filed.”
Wolf said this entire ordeal began around four months ago. It was at that time, she noticed her Facebook account had been hacked. It was shortly after this breach of security that Wolf is said to have got an anonymous e-mail from a man claiming to have hacked into the web camera on her labtop. He said he took pictures of her, according to Eimiller. He then blackmailed her to send him nude pictures; and threatened to share the ones he had if she did not comply. Luckily, Wolf did not comply and reported it to authorities.
Eimiller said that Wolf is not alone, and that the FBI does not believe the suspect targeted celebrities or high profile women. All in all there could be a dozen victims, but Eimiller decline to go into specific details. “It doesn’t appear the suspect was targeting celebrities, Eimiller said. “The additional victims are in the state and outside of CA. I am not able to comment further at this time.”
Eimiller said that in this case, each victim had a slightly different experience. “Victims experienced different scenarios,” she said. “However, a hallmark of an extortion case is demand for compromising photos, in many cases nude photos.” Eimiller also said that two men have been successfully prosecuted in the past two years for targeting several women in this way.
According to Eimiller, unfortunately, in the day and age of anonymous hackers, trolls, cyber bullies and stalkers, along with the proliferative use of social media sites like Facebook, these crimes will continue to increase,” Eimiller said. “The FBI is only one of many law enforcement agencies that may receive complaints and investigate.”
Eimiller did not give exact details of how investigators found the suspect, who remains anonymous at this point. “These types of cases generally come to our attention when someone is extorted or realizes their computer has been compromised,” Eimiller said. “We don’t discuss investigative techniques, but our agents use a combination of computer forensic analysis and good old detective work. The victims coming forward are also crucial to law enforcement learning about activity.”
Although there have not been tons of cases she has been aware of, Eimiller said it is a growing problem. “We have successfully prosecuted at least two men in past couple of years for targeting several women,” she said. “As technology increases so do the cases. Awareness about the problem has helped in preventing victimization.”
Wolf meanwhile, said in various news reports and interviews that she would use her position as the newly crowned Miss Teen USA to speak out against cyber bullying, extortion and other forms of criminal online harassment.
Wolf, who recently graduated from Great Oak High School in Temecula, told NBC’s “Today” web site that this ordeal began before she won the crown of the Miss Teen USA pageant. “I was just a normal girl in high school. This next year I’m just so excited to be able to share my story and raise awareness in young teens about what can happen.”
Eimiller said that although a situation like this might feel humiliating, or can be embarrassing, anyone who has been victimized has to report it. “Victims can only stop additional victimization by telling authorities, a parent or trusted friend to seek help,” she said. “Also, your computer should be up to date in terms of preventive measures (anti-virus, firewalls), but signs of a problem can be as minor as responding to an e-mail solicitation or noticing something amiss on a computer. Clearly if someone contacts a target demanding info, money or photos, that should be an indication of a problem.”