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'Crazy' man cuffed for plotting cyber extortion scheme

Threatened to drag firm 'through the muddiest of waters'

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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. ®

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