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Seminole man accused of hacking into e-mail, Facebook accounts

BELLEAIR — A Seminole man is accused of an elaborate computer hacking scheme in which he accessed women's e-mail accounts, then posted private, nude photos of them on social networking sites, authorities said.

In all, 24-year-old Joseph Bernard Campbell of 9700 Starkey Road, No. 217, is accused of breaching between 350 and 500 accounts since July 2010. He was arrested Thursday.

Belleair police Detective Jim Howard began investigating the case in early January after the department got a complaint from a Belleair woman who said she was getting text messages from friends about an inappropriate picture she had apparently posted on her Facebook page.

But the woman said she hadn't posted the picture, meant only for her fiance, on Facebook.

According to Belleair police, Campbell would get the women's e-mail addresses from their Facebook pages and then would send an electronic greeting card that directed the women to a false link that appeared to be their e-mail provider.

When the women entered their passwords, Campbell used a computer program to capture the passwords; he then used the passwords to enter the private e-mail accounts, police said.

Once in the e-mail accounts, Campbell gathered personal information and photos, which he then posted on their Facebook pages with a link to a website he created, police said. The site included pictures of the women, along with their names, the high schools they attended and their year of graduation.

The pictures were "private in nature" and included nude photos, police said.

Campbell would then ask for money or other personal pictures of women from people who wanted to visit his website.

The women learned of the phishing scheme when the photos began showing up as their Facebook profile pictures.

One of Campbell's victims said she discovered the situation when a friend called her several months ago to ask why she had posted a private photo on her Facebook profile.

The woman, who is in her mid 20s and lives in Pinellas Park, is not being identified by the St. Petersburg Times because of the nature of the case.

She said she immediately went to her Facebook page but found that she had been completely locked out. The woman said she was "mortified" to see a photo of herself taken for a boyfriend some years back, a photo she considered a youthful indiscretion that was far behind her.

The woman said she followed the Internet link attached to her photo and went to Campbell's website, where she saw numerous photos, including one of a former schoolmate.

She enlisted the help of "two very, very close friends" who she knew would be discreet to help her override the controls on her Facebook page. She also contacted the Web masters for Campbell's blog and alerted them that the page violated their policies. Within 24 hours, her Facebook page was back to normal and the website had been removed, she said.

But the damage was done. She knows that at least a handful of her Facebook friends saw the photo. Beyond the embarrassment, the woman said, is the frightening reality that someone was looking through her e-mails, including those to family members, co-workers and other professional contacts. She said she was particularly worried about how the breach might have affected her professionally because she does some work with children.

The woman said she has become relentless about her privacy settings and frequently changes her passwords.

"You have to realize if you own electronic devices, your life is an open book," she said.

The woman said she hopes Campbell is held accountable for his actions.

"It wasn't rape or murder, but it was certainly rape of emotions for the women involved," she said.

Police said Campbell used several computer techniques to try to hide his identity, but authorities were able to identify him as a suspect after they got subpoenas for several Facebook and e-mail accounts and were able to trace the IP addresses, which are numerical codes assigned to computer devices.

Authorities then got a search warrant for the Internet service provider Campbell was using, which led them to him.

Police seized three computers from Campbell's home and are in the process of trying to identify additional victims. By Friday afternoon, police had identified 22 women. All of those identified are adults, said Belleair police Chief Tom Edwards.

Campbell told investigators that he didn't mean to hurt any of the women, but "the name of his website would indicate something different," Edwards said.

Edwards declined to discuss the name of the website but said it was "derogatory" in nature. The website has been taken down, Edwards said.

Police said Campbell admitted he accessed between 350 and 500 e-mail accounts between July 2010 and May. Nearly all of the victims went to high schools in Pinellas County and "ran in the same circle of friends," Belleair police said.

Campbell attended a private high school in Pinellas, Edwards said, and knew several of the victims.

Edwards said the victims that investigators have spoken to so far were "devastated" that the intensely private photos were posted to public websites.

"That really puts you in a bad light. It really hurts your reputation in the community," Edwards said.

Campbell was charged with four felony counts of offenses against computer users. He was being held in the Pinellas County Jail on Friday in lieu of $40,000 bail.

The U.S. Secret Service got involved in the investigation when it was determined that several victims now live outside Florida. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office also was involved in the investigation and had received similar complaints, Edwards said.

Police said additional state and federal charges are pending.

Edwards said the case should serve as a warning to people about privacy issues related to computer usage: "It just takes a second for it to be out there, and it can go global."

Seminole man accused of hacking into e-mail, Facebook accounts 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 10:36pm]
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