'Sextortion' man charged over 'blackmailing women online'

A webcam
Image caption The accused is said to have blackmailed women into stripping off on webcam

A man who is said to have blackmailed more than 350 women after convincing them to strip off in front of their webcams has been arrested in the US.

Prosecutors said Karen "Gary" Kazaryan, 27, had hacked into hundreds of Facebook, Skype and email accounts to obtain naked or semi-naked pictures.

It is alleged he threatened to post the nude images of victims publicly unless they removed their clothing on camera.

If convicted, he could receive a maximum jail sentence of 105 years.

A press statement from the US Department of Justice detailed the charges against Mr Kazaryan, of Glendale, California.

Mr Kazaryan is said to have gained unauthorised access to hundreds of women's accounts, changing their passwords to prevent them from getting access.

"Once he controlled the accounts, Kazaryan searched emails or other files for naked or semi-naked pictures of the victims, as well as other information, such as passwords and the names of their friends," the statement said.

"Using that information, Kazaryan posed online as women, sent instant messages to their friends, and persuaded the friends to remove their clothing so that he could view and take pictures of them."

Skype capture

US authorities said they had found about 3,000 pictures of nude or semi-nude women on Mr Kazaryan's computer.

Some of the images had been taken from online accounts, while others had been captured by Mr Kazaryan himself on Skype, they alleged.

"When the victims discovered that they were not speaking with their friends, Kazaryan often extorted them again, using the photos he had fraudulently obtained to again coerce the victims to remove their clothing on camera," the statement said.

The FBI said on some occasions Mr Kazaryan had gone through with his threat to publish the sensitive images.

He now faces 30 charges - 15 counts of computer intrusion, and 15 counts of aggravated identity theft.

The FBI described the alleged blackmail as "sextortion".

Shower trick

In recent years, hackers have concocted ever more devious ways to coerce victims, or to spy on them unawares.

Writing in the Naked Security blog, Sophos researcher Graham Cluley recounted prior incidents.

In 2011, a Southern Californian man was sentenced to six years in prison for hacking into more than 100 computers - often posing as targets' boyfriends in order to obtain pictures.

Luis Mijangos, 32, said: "To all the victims I want to say that I'm sorry. I'm ready to do the right thing and stay out of trouble."

In July last year, Trevor Harwell, 21, was given a year-long jail sentence for setting up a ruse in which he convinced women that they needed to "steam" their webcams in order to fix a fault.

The easiest way to do this, Mr Harwell's "error" message explained, was by setting up the webcam near a shower.