Passenger Blackmailed With Nude Photos After Laptop Was Stolen, Catches Thief Herself

A passenger traveling through Washington Dulles airport had her backpack stolen with her laptop inside. There’s almost no worse place to steal something than an airport, if you can get cooperation from officials. There are cameras everywhere. But she was on her own to investigate – after receiving nude photos of herself via online messaging.

  • She reported the theft to the airport
  • And it was easy to identify the person who took the laptop – they worked at the airport
  • However, the Smart Carte employee wasn’t arrested and stayed on the job for over a month.

While the man was working at the airport, and enjoying her laptop, she got a message in her Instagram account. It contained “a nude photo of herself” from her laptop that was “part of an art project” and that she “hadn’t anyone.”

The airport authority investigator told her she should do some sleuthing on her own, and so she engaged in messaging with the man. He asked for more nude photos. He asked for $3,000. She became her own detective.

Wanting to take control of the situation, Jane decided to do her own detective work. Using an online search tool, she figured out the suspect’s IP address and even his GPS coordinates.

“It came back as an IP address registered in Springfield, Virginia,” she said.

She passed that information on to police, who did surveillance and eventually obtained a search warrant.

She’s amazing. The airport authority comes out looking like idiots (they’re among the worst to begin with). Police finally arrested the employee and recovered the laptop, which had been erased. She sued the perp in small claims court. They… settled the case. And the man pled down to petit larceny, receiving a mere 12 months’ probation.

Meanwhile, for its part, Smarte Carte says they were never even given details of the investigation But “fully cooperates with law enforcement whenever called upon.” He no longer works for them. And the airport authority finally suspending his security access.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Encryption of files or folders is so easy and so cheap one wonders why anyone would have sensitive information open to anyone.

  2. IAD is my home airport. Agree that MWAA (an unelected, unaccountable political patronage organization with unlimited funding authority) is one of worst organizations of its type.
    However , i have my doubts about this story. IAD is in Loudoun County , VA . The county that became famous for school rapes and a coverup by the School Board. The Soros-backed prosecutor has a stated policy of not prosecuting crimes especially theft cases. Highly doubtful prosecutor Buta Biberaj did anything at all. I notice the perps name wasn’t included anywhere so no way to verify any of this.

  3. @ Gary — I am shocked the police actually helped. Detectives are basically useless even when you hand them the evidence.

  4. A laptop needs full disk encryption.

    I was really lucky about 5 years ago. I hired a driver who met us at baggage while we returned from an international flight. This was at Dulles at night. Unfortunately I decided to do a rare thing and let the driver handle all of the baggage, only 2 carryons and 2 backpacks. After a nearly 2 hour drive home due to the Washington/Baltimore traffic (normal is about 50 minutes) the driver unloaded our baggage and my backpack was missing and in it were my electronics and house keys. It was a mess to get a locksmith that late at night. Amazing someone found the backpack (apparently it fell off the cart) in the parking lot and turned it in and everything was still in the bag (ipad, keys, headphones, etc.)

    So sometimes you get lucky. I’m not one to let things out of my possession but people always tell me to relax and stop worrying about stuff. Of course when I do, stuff like this happens. I got lucky.

  5. @Gene I gave detectives information on a theft and they compiled it, arrested the guy and he went to jail for several years. So I guess you have different experiences with detectives. I guess its not all.

  6. Airport corporations are “Stacked” with political patronage appointees. No accountability or oversight. Check the free employee parking lots you will see loaded with state reps.and political hack cars when they travel.

  7. Unfortunately the only way to protect yourself is encryption. All of the agencies supposedly protecting you protect their own first. Encryption is not seamless and can fail by forgetting the key.

  8. More work required on editing your articles. This paragraph alone is a shocker: “Meanwhile, for its part, Smarte Carte says they were never even given details of the investigation But “fully cooperates with law enforcement whenever called upon.” He no longer works for them. And the airport authority finally suspending his security access.” Don’t be like LoyaltyLobby.

  9. The thief and blackmailer deserves to have the book thrown at him for various crimes and also for being stupid to the extreme on top of being a criminal.

    The thief and blackmailer could have avoided and/or minimized his risk of being located and identified if he had gone through some basic operational security measures when using electronic devices and the internet to browse and/or communicate. Starting from securely setting up or using an accessible burner email account from a cash-purchased burner and/or publicly-shared device at a remote but high-traffic, free wifi location well-removed from his typical place for connectivity; and going on to use a fresh burner device elsewhere via other free wifi networks in high traffic locations; and going on to doing what it takes to undermine the ability of others to use browser and/or device fingerprinting to track a user across the internet and to frustrate the use of IP address tracking and file meta-data to locate and track him down; and being very careful with email.

    Thankfully, criminals are mainly stupid, or we would have way more problems in the world.

  10. Jns,

    Encryption can help. But when the encryption uses a compromised or relatively easily compromised password, the encryption standard used is weak, or the device or backup devices are already compromised, the best way to protect the data is to keep the device offline all the time and to minimize or avoid having sensitive data on any electronic device that is networkable or networked.

    The victim’s “art project” nudes ironically may have done her a favor in this situation: it got the thieving blackmailer to engage with their victim and make the perpetrator more traceable.

  11. I was just working on my art project with my nude photos. I decided to delete any security on my laptop because it was just too much trouble to remember a 4-digit PIN. I’m leaving tomorrow on a long trip and being able to access everything on my laptop instantly will be so convenient. I bought a new backpack with a nice open pocket on the outside that my laptop fits into well, sticking up a few inches on the top of the pocket, so I can slide it out easily. I also cancelled my credit card that provides insurance for these kinds of things, annual fee was just too high. I’m ready for my trip.

  12. Yeah those 4-digit pin numbers can be real difficult to remember…. Now that you have finished blowing smoke, what is/was the REAL reason for having no security?

  13. Sometimes this forum makes me sad. What difference does it make whether or not the picture was for an art project? And must we turn on the victim of a crime? I don’t recall reading any account of how the laptop was stored, so wondering just how the details about a laptop sticking out of a backpack came to light. And–the handy reference guide for “smart” cybercriminals offered by the poster who gave step-by-step instructions on how to evade detection? Not really impressed by that display of technical prowess.

    But back to the original story–kudos to a smart young woman who made the best of a difficult situation, and succeeded in helping to retrieve her property and bring a thief to justice.

  14. JM,

    I don’t know on what basis to call the thief-turned-blackmailer’s victim “a smart young woman”. Not password protecting an electronic device doesn’t speak to being smart. And having unencrypted/decrypted nude photos on an electronic device can be an invitation to problems from criminals or state-funded government agents/actors (if even different at times) — and that is even more so for those who travel internationally with such devices.

    Smart people learn from and avoid the mistakes of other people. She didn’t seem to get there.

    That the steps a cybercriminal can take to try to cover their tracks are primarily steps that decent, self-protecting people should and do take to maximize their own online/electronic privacy in a world full of both crooks, stalkers and bullies (if even different) that make use of the resources/capabilities of internet/tech companies (or their own/private sector employer’s business) to monitor and even attempt to control/intimidate/manipulate people who aren’t criminals.

  15. I agree about encryption of the laptop. Mine is encrypted and to get in there’s a 16 digit password that I don’t use anywhere else that has symbols, capital and small letters and numbers.

    Okay, but there is more that laptop users should do, particularly if they travel internationally where border authorities can confiscate laptops and other electronic devices for deep dive inspections. That includes the US CBP confiscating US Citizens’ laptops and other electronic gear.

    When I cross borders, there is no data of any importance on my laptop. It’s all on my office computer which I run remotely through a VPN connection and multiple password protection as well as Yubikey protection. Therefore, even if the governmental border agency confiscates my computer, there’s really nothing there to get. That’s particularly important with my business data from clients which is highly confidential.

    And of course, my laptop is never out of my possession except at government checkpoints. It’s in my backpack and outside of government/airport checkpoints, I’m the only one carrying it, particularly at airports, hotels, taxis or Ubers, or anywhere in public. In my hotel room, it’s locked up in the safe or at the main hotel safe if the room safe is too small. In planes I use a Pacsafe Exomesh anti-theft backpack & bag protector over my backpack to prevent pilfering my laptop or photo gear out of my backpack while sleeping. I always make sure the bag is directly over me in the overhead bin too, not several rows away, or at my feet.

    My backpack also has an AirTag secreted in it. In fact, all of my bags, carried on or checked have AirTags in them.

    Finally, what’s with making fun of the victim. She doesn’t deserve that at all. And the police generally have always done well by me and the one time I had serious trouble with a policeman, I made a complaint which was taken seriously. Several months later the 15 year veteran detective was fired.

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