Chicago Man Faces Federal Penalties for Snapchat Phishing Scam

March 20, 2024 Criminal Defense, Social Media, Theft/Property Crimes

Federal prosecutors have secured the conviction of a Chicago-based man accused of a phishing scheme that targeted over seven hundred women. After using the social media platform Snapchat to target college-aged women, the suspect would use their personal information, even obtaining private nude images from the accounts.

This page will provide the case details, along with information pertaining to phishing and how to avoid these dangerous schemes.

What is Considered a Phishing Scheme?

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), phishing is a type of online scam targeting consumers by appearing as an email or message from a well-known source, such as an internet service provider, a bank, or a mortgage company. The scheme involves obtaining the consumer’s personal information to open new accounts, steal personal information, or invade the existing accounts.

The FTC outlines the typical steps involved in phishing:

  1. Receiving an email, text, or message from a person or entity you know, that is requesting that you click a link, provide a password, information to a bank account, or other sensitive information;
  2. The email or message looks real by using spoofed logos, fake email addresses, or using familiar company names;
  3. The email or message adds pressure by saying it’s “urgent” or that you need to act now or something bad will happen; and
  4. By clicking on the link shared, the alleged scammer can install ransomware or other programs to lock you out of your data. By sharing personal information or passwords, the alleged scammer can now have access to all accounts with that information.

As the FBI explains it, a phishing scam is designed to “lure you in and get you to take the bait,” usually by trick you into providing information to unsuspecting criminals that they should not receive access to.

Federal Case Details

A Chicago-based man is facing extensive penalties after being accused of violating federal law. According to the press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 30-year-old Joseph Alexander Valdez was alleged to have conducted a phishing scheme on the social media app Snapchat.

During the period of June 2021-December 2022, Valdez allegedly deceived college-aged students throughout the U.S. to deceive them into providing their login information to the Snapchat app. From there, Valdez would access the accounts and obtain screenshots of the user’s personal information, including the victim’s names, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Valdez is also alleged to have viewed and downloaded private images from the accounts, including nude images. The press release indicated that Valdez would use online chatrooms to communicate with people and use a similar scheme to unlawfully obtain private images in the victim’s Snapchat account or other unlocked social media accounts. It was alleged that after obtaining people’s private images, Valdez would personally reach out and “taunt them by bragging that he obtained their private photographs and by commenting on their bodies.”

In total, Valdez was alleged to have victimized or attempted to victimize over 700 women. Two of the victims included students at Florida State University (FSU), and one student at the University of Florida (UF). Valdez was arrested and convicted on the federal charges of:

  • One count of wire fraud;
  • One count of aggravated identity theft; and
  • One count of stalking.

Valdez has been sentenced to 96 months (8 years) in federal prison, with an additional three years of supervised release after getting out of prison. Valdez is also being required to pay restitution to the victims.

The investigation was led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Tallahassee Police Department.

Penalties for This Type of Case in Florida

Although the example case above resulted in federal penalties, it is worth noting the potential penalties for each offense if it were prosecuted by the State.

  • Wire Fraud Using electronic communication to deceive another person(s) for financial gain. Penalties can range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree felony depending on the amount allegedly defrauded through the act.
  • Identity Theft Using another individual’s personal information without their consent to commit or attempt to commit a fraudulent act. The legal implications depend on whether the information was used to harass the victim, or to defraud them of financial value or property. Penalties can range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a first-degree felony for identity theft-related offenses.
  • Stalking Repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking another person in a willful and malicious manner. Penalties can range from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.

Contact a legal expert with Pumphrey Law if you have recently been accused of any of the offenses listed above.

Tips for Avoiding Phishing Scams

To stay vigilant and avoid any potential phishing scams, the FBI recommends the following tips to protect yourself:

  • Remember that companies generally don’t contact you to ask for your username or password;
  • Don’t click on anything in an unsolicited email, text, or social media message;
  • Carefully examine the email address, URL, and spelling used in any correspondence;
  • Be careful about what you download, and never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know;
  • Set up two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication on any account that allows it, and never disable it; and
  • Be careful with the information you share online or on social media, as any open personal information can be used by scammers to guess your password or security questions.

If you find yourself victim to a phishing fraud, you can report a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Contact a Defense Attorney with Pumphrey Law Firm

If you or someone you know is being accused of a white-collar crime in the state of Florida, consider seeking legal representation with a Tallahassee criminal defense lawyer. Although offenses such as identity theft and wire fraud are not considered “violent” in nature, these crimes severely affect the targeted victims. Although the example case provided covered a federal case, the penalties for these offenses still result in harsh implications when prosecuted by a Florida State attorney.

A defense attorney with Pumphrey Law Firm can review the surrounding facts of the incident during a free case evaluation. From there, we can establish any potential defenses to help fight against a conviction at trial. Contact our office at (850) 681-7777 or fill in our online form to schedule a consultation today.

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