The FBI has arrested a suspect in a years-long phishing scam that targeted perpetrators like Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke


Books on a library shelf.Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

  • The FBI has accused Filippo Bernardini of running an email phishing program for years to steal unpublished manuscripts.

  • Bernardini was charged with wire fraud and aggravated impersonation, according to an indictment.

  • Several notable authors, including Margaret Atwood, were targeted in the phishing scheme.

The FBI has arrested an Italian they suspect is the mysterious con man who ran an email phishing scheme for years to steal hundreds of book manuscripts.

Filippo Bernardini was arrested upon landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday, according to a news release. The Italian national is charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, according to an indictment.

Several high-profile authors, including Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke, have been targets of the phishing scheme over the years, according to The New York Times. Atwood told the BBC in 2019 that she and her publisher had received “fake emails” from “cybercriminals” in an attempt to steal the manuscript for “The Handmaid’s Tale” sequel.

The indictment alleges that Bernardini posed as “literary talent agencies, publishing houses, literary scouts and others” using fraudulent email accounts to defraud unwitting authors of their unwitting manuscripts. published.

Bernardini works as a rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster UK, according to The Times. Simon & Schuster did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment on Thursday, but a spokesperson told The Times in a statement that they were “shocked and horrified” by the accusations against Bernardini.

The indictment alleges that Bernardini used his intimate knowledge of the industry to create fake emails for real people who worked at different publishing houses, using slightly different letters, like an “rn” instead of an “m”.

Bernardini is accused of sending messages from hundreds of fake email accounts which all received replies to a common address. The indictment alleges that Bernardini asked a Pulitzer Prize-winning author for a copy of his forthcoming manuscript through a fake email, which police say was forwarded to the common address.

Bernardini is also accused of setting up a separate phishing scam to target a New York-based literary scouting agency. The indictment alleges that Bernardini created ‘at least two malicious web pages’ that resemble the home page of the scouting society’s database, which contains synopses and other information regarding the books future.

Bernardini emailed employees of the scouting company from a fake email address, the indictment alleges, then asked them to use a fake landing page that tricked them into enter their usernames and passwords. Logs kept by the reconnaissance company show that these accounts were “subjected to unauthorized access” after Bernardini received their login information, according to the indictment.

The manuscripts that were successfully stolen in the phishing scheme never made it to the black market, but “just seem to disappear,” The Times reported. The indictment does not detail what the alleged scammer did with the unpublished material.

“Unpublished manuscripts are works of art for the writers who devote time and energy to creating them,” said Michael Driscoll, deputy director of the FBI’s New York bureau, in a statement. “The publishers are doing everything they can to protect these unreleased pieces because of their value.”

Bernardini is scheduled to appear before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon on Thursday.

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