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How a Sextortion Victim Hacked Back and Put Her Attacker in Jail

Unhappy with the way her case was being handled, a college student took matters into her own hands.
Natalie Claus

Natalie Claus

Photographer: Rachel Jerome Ferraro for Bloomberg Businessweek
Updated on

Natalie Claus was getting accustomed to her sorority and preparing for winter break one evening in December 2019 when people she knew began receiving unusual messages from her. These Snapchat messages, which contained nude photographs of Claus, went to her friends, a cousin, an ex-boyfriend, and dozens of others she knew, more than 100 people in all. Some of the recipients responded with enthusiasm, others with confusion, as if Claus had played a bad joke. But one of her friends, Katie Yates, immediately recognized the messages as an online attack—and knew just how Claus should respond.

Yates was also a student at the State University of New York College at Geneseo, 40 miles south of Rochester, where Claus was a sophomore. Several months earlier, after Yates reported being sexually assaulted, someone had begun sending her abusive messages on social media. Feeling like she wasn’t getting enough support on campus, Yates began researching ways to identify her harasser.