A 29-year-old Michigan man was recently sentenced to five years in federal prison for interstate stalking in a bizarre case of online romance gone bad. The case provides some valuable insight for anyone inclined to share revealing photos of themselves.
The case began in 2011 when Brian Curtis Hile traveled to San Diego from Michigan to kill a woman and her boyfriend after the pair had unwittingly gotten caught up in Hile’s virtual love affair. Hile was the victim of a “catfishing” scheme, which involves someone using social media to pretend to be someone they’re not. Hile’s online-love affair lasted two years, during which time he exchanged explicit photos and romantic communications with his “girlfriend.” What Hile didn’t know was that the girlfriend was really a man living in South Africa. When Hile discovered the truth, he vowed to get revenge on both the man who deceived him and the woman whose photos had been used.
Because South Africa was too far to travel to exact his revenge, Hile focused on the woman whose photos had been used. He set out to learn the woman’s identity, conducting an online search that included the use of hacking tools. According to FBI Special Agent Steve Kim, “Eventually, he was able to hack into her e-mail account.” At that point, Hile set out to learn more about the woman’s live-in boyfriend as well as their extended family and friends.
When Hile purchased a bus ticket from Michigan to San Diego, his family alerted authorities. Hile was eventually detained in San Diego—about a mile from the woman’s residence. He was armed with duct tape, zip ties, and prepared to purchase a knife and chloroform.
Special Agent Kim also said, “Young people sometimes don’t understand the gravity of transmitting photos online. Once images are out there, through texting, e-mail, or social media, it’s permanent.” According to Kim, the most likely victims for this type of crime are teenage girls. However, anyone could become a target if the wrong person comes into possession of your information or photos.
This case raises the question of what types of information might be used by a hacker. Here are a few examples.
- Is your birthdate on a social media site? Armed with a month and day, it’s easy for a hacker to get the year when someone asks, “How old are you now?”
- Likes and dislikes can reveal preferences or patterns that could be used to gather more information.
- Where you went to school could be used to look for further information.
The Internet and social media sites can be a wonderful place. They can also be very scary places.