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Rolling Stone Online June 1998

Trent's AOL Problem

The days of lurking outside high-priced hotels and tailing tour buses may be over for 21st Century celebrity stalkers, who are already boning up on ways to invade their idols' privacy via the Internet.

In the most recent case of World Wide Wrong, a Nine Inch Nails fanatic in Georgia hacked into Trent Reznor's America Online account and sifted through weeks worth of private information before being arrested by New Orleans police last Monday. Amber Appelbaum, 22, was booked under the misdemeanor charge of making obscene phone calls, as well as felony charges for access device fraud and computer fraud, a spokeswoman for the New Orleans district attorney's office told JAMTV on Wednesday.

"She was released on her own recognizance, and we have not received a police report, so we are still waiting to evaluate the case and begin interviewing people involved," the spokeswoman said. If convicted of all three charges, Appelbaum could be ordered to pay as much as \$12,500 and/or serve more than seven years in jail with the possibility of hard labor. However, because the overzealous fan has no prior criminal record, the judge may opt to suspend her sentence or order her to serve all three sentences concurrently, which would translate into five years behind bars at the most, the spokeswoman said.

Appelbaum's high-tech high jinks were discovered when the Nine Inch Nails frontman noticed changes in his account and reportedly hired a private investigator. Contrary to previous reports, Appelbaum did not likely obtain Reznor's password by impersonating his wife on the phone with the AOL billing department. The senior vice president of communications at AOL, Ann Brackbill, told JAMTV that the billing representatives do not have access to users' passwords, and can only assign new temporary passwords to verified users when needed.

"We're working with law enforcement," Brackbill said on Wednesday. "There's a lot we don't know. It's all being investigated now and a lot needs to be found out before we can do anything."

AOL will likely step up to help Reznor sort out and mend his account problems, but Brackbill could not comment on the company's proposed action.

Reznor had no comment at press time. This high profile snafu follows months of security-related trouble for AOL, which is accused of involuntarily allowing a hacker to infiltrate and vandalize the American Civil Liberties Union website last week. Appelbaum may have used "socially engineered" tactics similar to those of the previous hacker, who conned an AOL representative into believing he was a valid account holder. (Anni Layne)