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Cleveland Guardians' prospect reports extortionist plot to police

FBI reports surge in cases involving blackmail and romance scams targeting teens and young adults

AKRON, Ohio — 11 Investigates has learned that Gavin Williams, the top pitching prospect for the Cleveland Guardians, paid a blackmailer $1,000 before going to police after his Snapchat account was hacked.

Williams told police that the blackmailer contacted him via text after hacking into the social media account. On Aug. 3, he was sent the private conversations that were stolen and told to pay $1,000. After payment, the blackmailer demanded more money or else the conversations would be released. On Aug. 5, a member of the Guardians called police to report the crime. Williams then followed up with a phone call and completed a report with the Akron Police Department.

The report does not provide any details about the content of the messages that were stolen. Williams told police that he did not know the identity of the hacker. As of Tuesday morning, no arrests have been made in the case.

Williams, 23, was the Guardians' top pick in the 2021 draft. He currently pitches for the Akron Rubberducks at the Double-A level. He was scheduled to pitch Tuesday night against the Erie Seawolves in Erie, Pa. The 6-foot-6 right-hander is 1-3 with a 1.83 earned run average for Akron.

Williams is far from alone in this issue. Cyber blackmail and cyber romance schemes are a major focus of the FBI. According to the Cleveland office, “the FBI has seen a huge increase in the number of cases,” particularly when it comes to children and teens.

In 2021, extortion losses in the U.S. totaled $60.8 million. Often times, these scams result after a hacker obtains control of a person's computer or phone. This can be be done, for example, when someone clicks a link that allows a key logger to be placed on a machine. The hacker can then monitor any conversations or exchange of photos.

"Most of the people behind this are overseas in the Eastern Bloc - Romania and Russia. It's a full-time job for them over there. They get up in the morning and do it all day," Tim Dimoff, the founder of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., said.

His company consults with companies and individuals around the country on a multitude of security issues, including cyber security. 

“These guys know how to psychologically touch people, especially in the United States, where they do care about their reputation and don’t want their name out on social media,” Dimoff said.

A second cyber scam is a so-called romance scam. In this scenario, a person pretends to be someone he is not and builds a relationship with someone, earning their trust and eventually getting gifts or compromising photos that can be used to blackmail them. In 2021, the FBI reported $956 million in losses in the United States from these types of scams. Children and teens are often victimized.

The FBI offers the following suggestions when meeting someone online:

· Be careful what you post and make public online.

· Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.

· Go slowly and ask lots of questions.

· Beware if the individual seems too perfect.

“Remember everything you say on social media is never deleted, totally. It can be used again at some future time. So anything you're saying or showing can come back to haunt you,” Dimoff said.

In a statement, the FBI's Cleveland office encouraged people to report any blackmail attempts. When it is done over a phone, through text messaging, email, or online app, it is considered using interstate commerce to commit a crime. That would be considered a federal crime.

"The number one step people can take if they feel they or someone they know is being targeted is to report it to the FBI. It may constitute a federal crime. And, your identity will be protected when reporting," the statement said.

The FBI can be reached at 1-800-CALL-FBI.

Asked to comment about the Gavin Williams situation, the Guardians provided the following statement: "We are aware of the situation, but it would not be appropriate for us to comment on this private legal matter."

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