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Christopher Burgess
Contributing Writer

When your career is derailed by your girlfriend tampering with your email

News Analysis
Jun 19, 20185 mins
Access ControlIdentity Management SolutionsSecurity

Eric Abramovitz, a gifted clarinetist, had opportunity squandered when his girlfriend executed a classic "business email compromise."

Man pointing to security icon for email
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s not every day that you see an individual’s professional career stymied and potentially derailed because of envy or possessiveness, but that is exactly what happened to Eric Abramovitz.

Abramovitz is a professional musician and gifted clarinetist who is currently performing with the Nashville Symphony and soon to be joining the Montreal Symphony. But his road to success was bumpy and had a few hairpin curves thrown in for flavor when he found himself the victim business email compromise via the ultimate insider betrayal.

That someone was Jennifer (Jooyeon) Lee, a flutist and a former girlfriend of Abramovitz. On June 13, 2018, Judge D.L Corbett of the Superior Court of Ontario, Canada, issued a default judgement against her and ordered her to pay Abramovitz $350,000 in punitive and aggravated damages for her role in sabotaging Abramovitz’s educational and career opportunities.

What led to the email compromise and fraud

A review of the court documents from the Superior Court provide to us the sordid details of what happened.  

Abramovitz and Lee met in September 2013 at McGill University. They hit it off, and within a short period of time had segued to an intimate relationship. By mid-October 2013, Abramovitz was staying at “Lee’s apartment virtually full-time.” Abramovitz shared his laptop and his passwords with Lee, and when 2014 rolled around, they were recognized as a “couple.” But apparently the pathway to tranquility had some hidden speed bumps. Abramovitz’s ambitions and Lee’s desires were not aligned. 

In early December 2013, Abramovitz applied to study under maestro Yehuda Gilad at the Coburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles. If he were one of the two selected, he would receive a full scholarship, including tuition, room and board, and a living stipend to cover meals and incidentals. He passed through the pre-screening interviews and was invited to Los Angeles to audition in February 2014. At the audition, he was told he would receive a decision by April 1, 2014.

And he did receive an email from Coburn and Gilad — well, perhaps more precisely, his email account received the decision.

Deceit and trust out the door

Gilad wrote to Abramovitz on March 27, 2014, advising that Coburn had accepted Abramovitz’s application and that they were offering him a place to study with Gilad and the full scholarship. The doors of opportunity had opened for Abramovitz. 

Unbeknownst to Abramovitz, his girlfriend was monitoring his email and intercepted the acceptance note from Gilad. She responded, the court documents tell us, and “declined” the scholarship and opportunity to study under Gilad. She then deleted the email exchange.

To close the loop, and provide Abramovitz with the expected email and to preclude his following up with Gilad directly, Lee took the subterfuge to another level. She created a Gmail account called “giladyhuda09” and sent an email to Abramovitz informing him that he was not selected, but perhaps a $5,000 scholarship at University of Southern California would be of interest.

In 2014, USC’s tuition was a mere $51,000 per year. Lee knew Abramovitz would decline the offer, and his email sent to that effect went to Lee’s bogus email account.

This is a clear case of business email compromise, which we see so often involving real estate or other engagement where the perpetrator is trying to have the victim send funds. In this instance, though, the attempt was to dupe both parties and keep them from collaborating.

Lee impersonated both Gilad and Abramovitz, and she did this so Abramovitz would not leave Montreal. If he stayed, her hope was that her relationship would continue, which she feared would not be the case if Abramovitz moved to Los Angeles.

Abramovitz lost the two-year scholarship and stayed at McGill University and obtained his Bachelor of Music degree. Abramovitz and Lee broke up — Lee aware of her subterfuge, Abramovitz blissfully ignorant. 

How the fraud was discovered

Both Gilad and Abramovitz moved along, thinking each had declined to work/study with the other. Abramovitz, unable to afford USC’s Master’s program (and study with Gilad), applied for and was accepted into a two-year “Graduate Certificate in Performance” program at USC. This certificate program afforded some, but not much access, to Gilad. Abramovitz went to Los Angeles on his own dime.

Gilad’s statement explained the lost opportunities experience by Abramovitz due to the deception. Abramovitz “was the victim of such an unthinkable, immoral act that delayed his progress and advancement as an up-and-coming young musician and delayed his embarking on his promising career.”

Speaking to BuzzFeed, Abramovitz explained how when he and Gilad had first encountered each other at the audition for the Graduate Certificate, the meeting was filled with tension. Each challenging the other as to why they had rejected the other.

They didn’t resolve it during this encounter and both left frustrated. A few months later, one of Gilad’s students asked Abramovitz why he turned down the scholarship to Coburn? It was then that Abramovtiz forwarded the “rejection email” to Gilad’s correct email and learned Gilad did not sent that email. 

Abramovitz investigated. 

Abramovitz pulled up Gmail account and tried a password that Lee had previously shared with him, and it opened the account. There it was: His by-then ex-girlfriend had created the fake Gilead email account. He confronted Lee, who denied everything and then blocked him on all social media.

Abramovitz said their contact has been limited and through lawyers.

He described feeling as if Lee had executed a “stab to the heart and back.” 

His career is now back on track, and he has a new girlfriend. 

Christopher Burgess
Contributing Writer

Christopher Burgess is a writer, speaker and commentator on security issues. He is a former senior security advisor to Cisco, and has also been a CEO/COO with various startups in the data and security spaces. He served 30+ years within the CIA which awarded him the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal upon his retirement. Cisco gave him a stetson and a bottle of single-barrel Jack upon his retirement. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century”. He also founded the non-profit, Senior Online Safety.

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