Over 50 women fell victim to the Birmingham Phisher

Warning. Do not be a Phish.

Quit sending unsolicited message warnings to your Internet friends.

You could be spreading a virus or worse.

Never reply to emails and social media requests asking for your personal information. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) there were more than 19,000 victims of Internet phishing and related scams last year. By sending unsolicited messages (“Warning—do not respond or befriend John Smith because…”) to your social media friends, you may be spreading a virus or helping someone with bad intentions phish.

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Many hackers use the Internet to swindle money or to get revenge on their adversaries. But an Alabama man’s online crime was stealing women’s personal photos simply for the thrill of invading their privacy.

In e-mails to prospective victims, Kevin Maldonado, 35, claimed to be an administrator for their e-mail provider and requested that they change their passwords. He then captured those passwords and accessed their private information—a computer intrusion technique known as phishing.

Password phishing (FBI graphic)

More than 50 women fell for the scheme according to the FBI. And once Maldonado had their passwords, he could unlock his victims’ online lives, including pictures on their cell phones that were backed up to the cloud.

“Getting into these people’s personal lives in a deviant manner excited him,” said Special Agent Emily Celeste, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Birmingham Division. Maldonado stole and downloaded thousands of photos from unsuspecting women for more than a year, and they never knew it until the FBI notified them.

While some of the photos Maldonado stole were explicit, others were simply everyday pictures of children, pets, and family get-togethers. Unlike some similar cases where stolen information is released to embarrass victims, Maldonado kept the photos on his own computer for his own use.

“You have pictures of your kids all over your phone, family moments, and he harvested them for himself,” Celeste said. “It was just disgusting.”

“Once somebody obtains your password or can answer your security questions, they’ve opened up your entire world.” –Emily Celeste, special agent, FBI Birmingham

Given Maldonado’s random approach to finding his victims, there was minimal connection among them, although many were models or in the fitness industry. Some had been romantically involved with Maldonado, some he had found online, and others lived in his community. After Maldonado accessed one woman’s e-mail, he would then use her contacts list to identify future victims.

Maldonado pleaded guilty in federal court in Birmingham, Alabama in February 2017 to computer intrusion, and a judge later sentenced him to six months in prison and three years of supervised release.

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