BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – FBI officials and U.S. Attorney William Hochul called 38-year-old James Allen “a master manipulator.”
The Detroit man was convicted of Child Pornography and Cyber Stalking for harassing 18 Western New York girls online between April and August of 2012.
Monday, Allen was sentenced to more than 20 years behind bars.
Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the FBI in Buffalo, Holly Hubert, said despite Allen’s invasive crimes, he wasn’t an expert hacker or computer genius.
“People think because this is a crime perpetrated via the internet that there’s a fair level to computer-related sophistication, and that’s often not the case. Sometimes it’s just hobbyists,” Hubert told News 4.
Allen, who doesn’t have a connection to Western New York, created a fake website to obtain person information about the Kenmore victims.
FBI agents said he coerced the victims into Skyping with him, threatening he had already obtained nude photos, and that he would release them.
“And in this case, our subject succeeded in convincing these victims that he had these pictures whether he had them or not,” said Hubert.
“In the posts, that were sent in the chat messages between Mr. Allen and the minor victims, they were hostile, they were evil…. it was emotional torture,” said Aaron Mango, Assistant U.S. Attorney.
After a tip from Kenmore Police, The FBI cracked Allen’s encrypted computer, which had screenshots of the victims on it.
It’s called “sextortion,” blackmailing individuals to obtain sexual content. 70 percent of sextortion victims are teenage girls.
Hochul stressed the importance of using state resources and tip lines to keep your kids safe, but said the most important deterrent of cyber crimes is having those sometimes difficult conversations.
“Keep it short, but by all means, continue to repeat it,” Hochul said.
Hubert told News 4 most social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter do a decent job of reporting harassment and cyber stalking, but because offenders are constantly evolving their techniques, it’s often an uphill battle.
She said Snapchat is a social media app being used more by young people, and it brings with it some misconceptions.
“They’re probably between 14-22. We have a lot of individuals Snapchatting. And I think those that use it think that the Snapchat disappears in seven seconds. Well it doesn’t. Once something is on your phone, it’s on your phone forever,” she said.
She said offenders have created ways to retrieve images even after they’ve been “deleted.”
The FBI has 56 underground operations at their field offices, and when agents learn of a new technique or a new platform being targeted by offenders, a bulletin gets sent to everyone.
Hubert said the best way to avoid dangerous situations is to not send inappropriate photographs to anyone, regardless of whether they’re your friends or not.