Man Allegedly Used Fake Facebook Surveys to Solicit Password Clues and Extort Nude Photos From Women

By Melanie Ehrenkranz on at

A former NASA contractor has been arrested for allegedly hacking into several women’s Facebook and email accounts in order to obtain intimate photos, and using them as blackmail unless they provided him with additional nude photos. The man, 28-year-old Richard Gregory Bauer, was arrested on Thursday.

Bauer allegedly used social engineering tactics in order to obtain information to hack into the women’s online accounts. According to a news release from the US Department of Justice (DOJ), he messaged a few of his victims using his actual name, purporting to be conducting research for a “human societies class.” The questions he asked his victims incorporated common password reset questions, such as what was their first pet’s name, where did their parents meet, and what was the first car they owned, according to the indictment. Bauer is also accused of targeting women by convincing them to download malware under the guise that it was innocuous software he needed help testing. Instead, the report says that malware gave him access to their computers, which in turn afforded him their login and password information.

Bauer allegedly targeted seven women in total, from around February 2015 through around June 2018. Bauer did not hide his identity from women when he initially reached out, but used the aliases John Smith, Steve Smith, and Garret when harassing and threatening them, according to the indictment.

The claims made against Bauer in the indictment include both gross invasions of privacy as well as textbook examples of revenge porn. “So a mutual friend gave me some pictures of you, and said you would give more,” Bauer allegedly emailed one of his victims, with the subject line “Pics of you” and a topless photo of the woman. “I liked what I saw. I assume this is you? I have mannnnnny more. So what do you say about giving me some more? I don’t want to put these somewhere…”

Bauer then allegedly sent the same woman a series of messages on Facebook, indicating that he had emailed her, implying that if she didn’t respond, he would distribute her nude photo online. Shortly after, the DOJ says he emailed her again, stating, “I guess you don't care about having your fiance know about your nude pics on the internet...respond to this email.” These types of messages continued for several months, and according to the indictment, Bauer even sent more explicit photos of the victim to her and threatened her by asking how her fiance and her students would feel if they saw them.

Bauer allegedly made specific demands for his victims to ensure them that he wouldn’t non-consensually distribute their nude photos online. “I want four pictures of you daily,” he emailed one victim, then detailing conditions for each of these photos, including “naked, your face doesn’t have to be visible.”

According to the indictment, Bauer’s messages to the seven women all include a lot of similar language, with attached nude and intimate photos of them he illegally obtained, and a threat to respond and/or send him more if they don’t cooperate with his demands. The messages slightly vary per woman, including details personal to them, such as implying the leak of these photos would be detrimental to their line of work, or mentioning a loved one. “I don’t want to embarrass your daughter,” he emailed one woman. “I didn’t realise you wanted all your [ENTITY A] co-workers to know you’re a slut?” he emailed another.

In January of this year, Bauer sent a threatening email to someone he believed to be one of his victims, again demanding nude photos so that he won’t distribute theirs online. According to the indictment, he actually sent the email to an undercover cop.

Bauer was arrested this week at his residence in Los Angeles in the US state of California, charged with stalking, unauthorised access to a protected computer, and aggravated identity theft, according to the DOJ. Conviction for all of the charges could mean up to 64 years in federal prison. [Ars Technica]