— A week after a Florida State University freshman appeared on TODAY to warn that an online predator was posing as a sorority “sister” to sexually harass young women online, law enforcement agencies in three states joined forces and were able to identify a man they believe to be behind the scam.
Mitchell W. Hill, 27, was arrested at his home in Key West, Fla., where police say they seized a computer linked to the alleged online harassment of at least 11 women.
He is charged with two counts of extortion, two counts of video voyeurism and 12 counts of attempted video voyeurism. Extortion is the most serious charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The video voyeurism charge can carry up to five years in prison.
In some cases, the women’s hopes of joining sororities in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana made them easy prey for an apparent online predator.
On Dec. 2, Ashley Atchison, 18, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira that she gave someone posing as an FSU alum personal information over a three-day period starting Aug. 31, but discontinued their Facebook friendship when “Lexie” started demanding that Atchison perform inappropriate activities.
“I had word from the police that girls actually fully undressed themselves [in front of a webcam] … They lured them in to go to that extent,” said Atchison.
After the broadcast, investigators at FSU, Louisiana State University, Auburn University and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began comparing notes and contacted the social networking website Facebook for help. They were able to trace some of the online harassment to an Internet Protocol address.
An IP address is like a fingerprint that identifies a particular computer; less-savvy Web users either are unaware of it or do not how to mask it. Police say they used an IP address to track the messages to a computer they found at Hill’s home in Key West.
“The TODAY show was instrumental in conjoining all the law enforcement agencies who were experiencing this type of complaint so we can work together and pool our resources and ultimately develop a suspect,” Louisiana State University Police Sgt. Blake Tabor told NBC News.
“We’re certainly glad that we were able to assist getting a predator off the street and we do urge any other victims to please come forward so this man can be brought to justice for every crime he has committed,” Tabor added.
Hill is scheduled to be arraigned Friday on charges of Internet voyeurism and extortion. Police are still trying to figure out how the alleged cyberstalker seemed to know so much about his targets and their sorority activities before they received their first online message.
As for Atchison, she says she is sleeping better now and plans to return to Florida State University for the spring semester — just a few months older, but much wiser.