Los Angeles News

Woman's cellphone theft turns into nightmare

Monday, February 25, 2013

A young woman from Long Beach was celebrating her 22nd birthday at a bar in San Francisco when her iPhone was stolen. That's when the nightmare took hold.

The woman, who will be identified as Amanda, said the stolen cellphone last month set off a chain of events that haunts her to this day.

That's because her phone contained explicit photos that Amanda had taken of herself for her boyfriend. And it wasn't long before she was getting emails from someone threatening to distribute those photos to all of her contacts on Facebook and Twitter.

"He said if you give me $5,000 I'll delete your photos and it will be done, and I said, 'No, I'm not sending you any money. I'm sorry, but that's not what's going to happen,'" she said.

Amanda canceled her wireless service the day after her phone was stolen, but she didn't change the passwords on her email or social media accounts. Making matters worse, her phone was not protected with a passcode.

Even though the phone line was deactivated, the iPhone's data was accessible through any Wi-Fi network, making her personal information an open book.

"He knows everything about me - everything," she said.

Amanda hired a private investigator that specializes in Internet crimes. He learned that the emails were coming from someone in Peru. He also told her that the phone likely ended up in the hands of an organized crime ring that sells stolen iPhones overseas.

"A lot of people have been having their cellphone stolen from these places, that's led me to believe that there was some kind of criminal organization acting out," he said.

Amanda refused to pay the $5,000, but then the person started demanding more explicit photos. Again, Amanda refused to comply.

"I think it's disgusting that someone could get such joy over scaring somebody and knowing that they have that power over someone," Amanda said.

Amanda's lawyer, Michael Cernyar, said it's only a matter of time before they find the person who has the stolen phone. He also said these types of cases are becoming increasingly common. Typically, the culprit is a jilted lover. But he said anyone who threatens to distribute explicit photos as a form of extortion or intimidation is breaking the law.

"There are ways to track you down, and that's the amazing thing," Cernyar said. "They're on track of who they believe this person is."

Amanda says she takes comfort in knowing that authorities are on the trail of the person who threatened to disgrace her. She also knows not to ever make the same mistake again.

"I've obviously now learned the hard way," she said. "It's not something you should be doing knowing that anyone can gain access to your phone."

(Copyright ©2014 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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technology, los angeles news, robert holguin
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