Geneseo student whose nude photo was stolen and shared prepares to face hacker in court

Local News

GENESEO, N.Y. (WROC) — Natalie Claus is a senior at SUNY Geneseo studying history. She said those studies were put on the back burner in December of 2019 when someone hacked into her Snapchat account and distributed nude photos of her to 116 Snapchat contacts, many of whom were also SUNY Geneseo students.

The person who compromised her account was arrested back in August of 2020. David Mondore, 29, pleaded guilty to accessing a protected computer without authorization for the purposes of committing a fraud, as part of a plea deal.

Claus was just one of Mondore’s many victims. In pleading guilty, he also admitted to hacking more than 300 Snapchat accounts over the span of two years. Mondore is expected to be sentenced in Buffalo on December 1st, when Claus plans to give a victim impact statement.

“I don’t know how I’m supposed to stand in front of this man who completely destroyed my life and look him in the eye,” Claus said. “I’ll do it. I’ll figure it out. I’ll find a way. But I’m still just not sure how.”

Claus said she’s terrified but understands this is something she has to do not only for herself, but for everyone who walks this path after her.

The incident that Claus said ruined the past two years of her life started on December, 5th, 2019. She was studying in Bailey Hall on Geneseo’s campus when a friend approached her with an alarming warning.

“My friend was walking by and she was like ‘cute picture but be careful who you send that stuff to,’ and I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ The look on her face when I said that was, indescribable. It was just this complete look of horror and shock as she realized that I really didn’t know what she was talking about,” Claus said.

A friend of Claus asked for her Snapchat log-in credentials to use her account to see if another person had blocked them. Little did she know, the person on the other side of that screen was not her friend, but a stranger who had used a method of “account hopping” on many occasions to access accounts through mutual trust. The hacker would use existing photos in the account to bait others to send their own private photos. In this case, the picture had a caption that read, “Flash me back if we are besties.”

“I know he sent it to 116 of my snapchat contacts hoping for a picture back and I have heard rumors that people have taken screenshots of that photo and sent it to their friends, mocking me because of the caption. It’s not something I would say. That’s not something I’ve ever said,” Claus said.

After realizing what had happened, Claus called university police to file a report.

“As I’m waiting for them to send an officer over, my mom called me, and she knew essentially before I even really did, because the man who came access to my account sent the photo to a cousin of mine. My mom calls me and she’s freaking out, and she’s angry, but not like she’s mad at me. More like she’s scared,” Claus said.

Claus was able to gain the IP address of the individual who hacked her, thanks to help of her sorority sister, Kate Yates.

“I had taught myself how to make a fake link that could look like whatever I wanted it to look like would redirect through a server that only I had access to, would log and capture all of their information, and then would redirect to whatever I wanted it. So, I told Natalie about that, and I said, ‘I can try to get whoever this is, their information,’” Yates said.

The information was handed over to university police, but Claus said she felt the case was larger than what they could handle. She contacted both Geneseo Town Police and the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office attempting to file a report. Both agencies told Claus UPD would continue handling the case.

“They were like, ‘let us call UPD and we’ll get back to you.’ They call me back, and they were like, ‘UPD is going to handle it. It’s not our problem.’ And I was like, ‘great, nobody is going to help me. UPD is not equipped to handle this. Nobody else seems interested in helping me.’ I literally had the pills (anti-anxiety medication) in my hand, and I was very close to committing suicide,” Claus said.

A few weeks later, Claus went to the UPD office to formally type out her statement about what happened. UPD invited a state police detective to come in for the case. The detective then passed the investigation over the FBI.

Claus met with investigators in Febraury of 2020 and in May of that year, Claus got a call saying they think they found the hacker. The FBI prepared a search warrant but due to the timing being at the height of the pandemic, investigators were unable to travel to Manhattan to execute the search warrant. It was August of 2020 when 29-year-old New York City resident David Mondore was arrested. And almost a year later in May 2021, Mondore plead guilty.

“I had never met this man before, I had no idea that he even existed but through account hopping, he managed to find my account,” Claus said.

Two years after the photo was sent, Claus has found the courage to tell her story. She said she hopes by being transparent, it can make situations such as these easier for others going forward.

“I don’t have anything left to lose. He can’t take anything else away from me. He has already completely humiliated me and destroyed every ounce of self-confidence I had. And there is nothing else that anybody can say or do to hurt me. So I might as well…I just want anyone else who has had something like this or something similar happened know that you can come forward,” Claus said.

Claus is preparing her victim impact statement for Mondore’s sentencing on December 1st. She said she’s doing it because she wants Mondore to understand the magnitude of his actions.

“It’s so easy to just be like, ‘oh, it’s just an account.’ No. There’s a person attached to that account, and I want to look him in the eyes and let him know that it was a person that he did that to, and that it wasn’t just some photo on screen. It wasn’t just some nameless faceless account. It was a person,” Claus said.

Mondore has been charged with unauthorized access to computer systems in furtherance of any criminal act in violation of state law, unauthorized access to a protected computer in furtherance of fraud, and aggravated identity theft. These charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is expected to be sentenced in Buffalo on December 1st, 2021.

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