'Crazy' man cuffed for plotting cyber extortion scheme
Threatened to drag firm 'through the muddiest of waters'
A California man was charged with extortion after he allegedly threatened to send millions of emails and social networking messages that maligned a large life insurance company unless he was paid almost $200,000.
Anthony Digati, 52, of Chino, California, was arrested and charged with a single felony count of extortion through interstate communications, according to federal prosecutors in Manhattan. In a series of emails and web postings, he allegedly warned employees, executives and a board member of the insurance company their reputation would be ruined if his demand for $198,303.88 wasn't met.
"I am going to drag your company name and reputation, through the muddiest waters imaginable," Digati, a former registered agent and manager at the company, wrote in an online tirade. "This will cost you millions in lost revenues, trust and credibility not to mention the advertising you will be buying to counter mine. Sad thing is it's almost free for me."
The allegations, contained in court documents unsealed Monday, offer a glimpse into the capabilities of modern-day blackmailers, who with a few keystrokes can send missives to millions of people. Over the past decade, cyber extortion has become more and more common, as criminals threaten to attack websites and malign the images of companies or individuals unless ransoms are paid.
According to prosecutors, Digati threatened to spam more than 6 million people with links to a website that was highly critical of the various financial products offered by the insurance company. Digati also allegedly described himself as a "huge social networker" who would use his contacts to send more than 200,000 people messages "slamming your integrity and directing them to this website within days".
Prosecutors didn't name the targeted insurance company, but these Google cache contents suggest it was New York Life. Digati didn't return a phone call seeking comment for this article.
According to the criminal complaint, Digati was unhappy with the performance of the variable universal life insurance he had purchased from the company. His online missive said he had spent $49,575.97 in premiums and calculated his demand amount by multiplying that figure by four.
If convicted, Digati faces a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross loss or gain derived from the offense.
"By the way," he added. "Yes, I am crazy. Yes, I am vindictive. Yes, I am extremely upset."
And to prove he wasn't joking, he allegedly included his personal phone number and email address. ®
It will be interesting to see how this plays out
From what I have been able to gather, this guy isn't your normal run-of-the-mill wacko. He apparently owns multiple companies, is involved in venture funding, and may even be a former employee of New York Life.
He made an investment with New York Life that didn't live up to promises - like most investments over the last couple of years he probably lost money. He demands that they return the money that he invested. They refuse. He then says that he will say unflattering things about them in a very public way and that millions of people will hear about it unless they return his money (with triple damages, down to the penny).
He was right. Now instead of a drop-in-the-bucket spam campaign, thousands of news websites around the world have picked up the story. My guess is that he was rather careful with his comments and didn't publish anything that wasn't true.
All that has to happen now is for a pre-arrest copy of his website be "leaked" to Wikileaks or similar and every news agency in the world will be linking to it and distributing it further. Since someone has probably cached or copied it, he doesn't even have to do it himself.
According to the FBI, the reason they moved forward is that the amount of money that he demanded was larger than the alleged grievance - not that he had threatened to send a bunch of spam. After all, they couldn't charge him with violating the can-spam act if he hadn't gotten around to sending anything.
It almost seems like he planned it this way, taunting them and daring them to take the bait. Now we will see if they can swallow it, or whether he has caught himself in his own trap.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I personally have multiple investments with New York Life. My NYL adviser was very clear on the risks involved when I signed up, and I had to sign statements showing that I had read the disclosures. I'm sure that he signed similar paperwork, whether he remembers it or not. He probably doesn't have a leg to stand on as far as getting his money back -- unless he has some incriminating document promising something that should never have been promised.
because he asked for money to keep the secret. If he'd just ruined their reputation with the truth, he'd be in the clear.
Sounds bipolarish to me
A very good manic run at that.