San Francisco cellphone theft leads to blackmail in Peru

February 26, 2013 12:36:08 AM PST
You might assume what's stored on your cellphone is private, but one Bay Area woman's story shows what can happen if that phone ends up in the wrong hands. ABC7 News has the exclusive story of a woman whose life was turned upside down because of some compromising information a thief threatened to reveal over the Internet.

"I know this is happening to someone right now and they don't know what to do," 'Amanda' said. "It's a scary thing and hopefully by me exposing this story, they'll know what to do, what not to do."

'Amanda' asked that ABC7 News not use her real name. She is being blackmailed by the person who bought her stolen phone.

Last year, on the night of Dec. 29, 'Amanda' was at Kelly's Tavern in San Francisco's Marina District. When she left, she noticed her new iPhone was missing.

Just six days later she received an email from a man who said his name was Edwin. There was an attachment.

"He just sent me three nude photos of myself," 'Amanda' said.

Edwin told her something else that also surprised her.

"'I'm in Peru. I bought your phone at this market,'" 'Amanda' said. "And he said, 'If you give me $5,000, I'll delete your photos and it will be done,' and he said, 'Well OK, if you don't, I'm going to send them to all of your friends,' because he had all of my contacts on my phone and he kept messaging me saying, 'OK now I'm going to put them on a pornographic website and attach your Facebook link to it so it will be public.'"

The nude pictures were from her iPhone's photo album. They were meant only for her boyfriend's eyes.

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

She went to a lawyer who specializes in computer forensics.

"I suspect at some point, she will get her phone back with the pictures intact," Michael Cernyar said.

Cernyar hired cybercrimes specialist Mike Miitsu. Miitsu was able to track down the man who sold the phone to Edwin at a marketplace in Lima. He learned that the man belongs to a ring of phone thieves.

First, there's a "mule" -- the person charged with sneaking the phones out of the country.

"As soon as they get these phones, they ship them at a high rate of speed to where ever their destination is, whether it's China, Pakistan or in this case, Peru," Miitsu said.

The thieves then get the phones ready to sell.

What they try to do is unblock the phone," Miitsu said. "If it was reported stolen, they try to change the number. They try to do various things to the phone to get it working again and resold in their market."

Miitsu used his Internet skills to locate 'Amanda's' blackmailer and his home address in Lima. He posed as a buyer on the black market and chatted with Edwin.

Miitsu even convinced him to send a photo of 'Amanda's' phone.

"He sent me a screen shot of all the detailed information on this phone that actually was her phone," he said.

Armed with the information, 'Amanda' went to the Peruvian consulate in Los Angeles. She also contacted the U.S. embassy in Lima, which referred her to the FBI attache.

"Right now, there is a warrant that they're working on in Peru to hopefully arrest this guy," 'Amanda' said. "But regardless of what's going to happen in this case, I'm always going to be scared knowing that someone knows so much about me."


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