Sextortion and Cyberstalking: How a Single Tip Uncovered an International Scheme
The investigation that uncovered a far-reaching sextortion scheme by a U.S. State Department employee at the U.S. Embassy in London all started with a single complaint by a young victim in Kentucky. She went to the police. “The victim basically was saying that she was being cyberstalked by some guy who got into her e-mail and was threatening to expose compromising photos of her to her friends and family,” said FBI Special Agent Andrew Young, who interviewed some of the hundreds of victims targeted by Michael C. Ford, a former State Department civilian employee who was sentenced last month to nearly five years in prison for hacking into the e-mail accounts of young women to extort them.
Sextortion and Cyberstalking
How a Single Tip Uncovered an International Scheme
The investigation that uncovered a far-reaching sextortion scheme by a U.S. State Department employee at the U.S. Embassy in London all started with a single complaint by a young victim in Kentucky. She went to the police.
“The victim basically was saying that she was being cyberstalked by some guy who got into her e-mail and was threatening to expose compromising photos of her to her friends and family,” said FBI Special Agent Andrew Young, who interviewed some of the hundreds of victims targeted by Michael C. Ford, a former State Department civilian employee who was sentenced last month to nearly five years in prison for hacking into the e-mail accounts of young women to extort them.
According to the facts of the case, between January 2013 and May 2015, Ford—while working in London—posed as a member of a large web company’s “account deletion team” and sent out e-mails to thousands of women warning them that their e-mail accounts would be deleted if they didn’t provide their passwords. Ford then used the passwords he received to hack into victims’ e-mail and social media accounts to search for nude and topless photos and personal information like contacts and addresses.
He hacked into at least 450 e-mail accounts and admitted e-mailing at least 75 women, threatening to circulate their compromising pictures unless they sent him more.
Following the initial complaint in Kentucky, local police reached out to the FBI in Louisville, where agents traced the source of the e-mails to a State Department server in London. The Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) began an internal probe that led to Ford and uncovered the massive hacking, cyberstalking, and sextortion scheme. Young said the investigation showed Ford spent the bulk of his time at work using a government computer to “extort women, hack into their e-mail accounts, and threaten them.”
The FBI’s primary role in the investigation was interviewing victims across the U.S. to build a case. “They were angry,” said Young, who worked the case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office, which had jurisdiction because Ford had Georgia residency. “Somebody steals your most private pictures out of your computer, then comes back and threatens you with it. They felt compromised.”
At Ford’s March 21 sentencing, prosecutors presented evidence of another scheme he started several years earlier, in 2009. Posing as a talent scout, Ford combed through websites where aspiring models posted their pictures and contact information. He duped young women into sending personal information, including their measurements and dates of birth. “He would send them an e-mail with a link, and when they clicked on the link he got access to their computer and e-mail accounts,” Young said.
Ford, 36, of Atlanta, was indicted August 18, 2015 following his arrest by DSS during a visit to Atlanta. He pled guilty in December.
His plea was due in large part to the voluminous evidence against him, including the statements of victims like the one who came forward in Kentucky.
“There was no getting around it,” Young said. “Witness after witness and a lot of forensic evidence—it made putting him in jail a whole lot easier.”
- Press release
Married State Department employee accused of hacking into college students' computers, stealing explicit pictures and 'sextorting' them from US embassy in London
Michael C Ford was arrested at Atlanta's Hartfield Jackson Airport
Was about to fly back to the United Kingdom with wife and son
Allegedly told one woman he was a 'wizard' and could obtain their pictures
Supposedly told victims they had 'video girls in the changing room or gym'
At one point he posed as a Google employee to steal a password
Otherwise he would publish their compromising pictures online
By Wills Robinson For Dailymail.com and Associated Press Reporter
Published: 09:33 EST, 21 May 2015 | Updated: 10:09 EST, 22 May 2015
A married State Department employee has been arrested and accused of 'sextorting' college students from his computer at the U.S. Embassy in London.
Father-of-one Michael C. Ford from Alpharetta, Georgia, allegedly hacked into computers of victims as young as 18, stole sexually explicit photos and then tried to blackmail them.
Authorities, who detained him at Atlanta's Hartfield Jackson International Airport last week, say in one case he posed as a Google employee to obtain a password and sometimes referred to himself as a 'talent scout'.
Among the women he targeted were an 18-year-old from Kentucky and a 22-year-old from Illinois.
In one instance, Ford told an unidentified woman who complained of his hacking that he was innocent and would send out photos of her if she went to police, according to a criminal affidavit.
Prosecutors say Ford, who graduated from St Pius X Catholic High School in 1997, then threatened to post the images online unless the women complied with his demands, such as requests that they shoot videos of other women undressing.
In one email, he wrote: 'I want you to video girls in the changing room (of her gym). If you don't, I send your details and pictures to everyone.
'What do you say? Looks like you've made up your mind. Get ready for my email and post to go out tomorrow morning. Enjoy!'
He also said he would post their real name and address if they did not comply.
In one he referred to himself as a talent scout. He emailed one of the victims saying 'finally, I found you! What do you think? Nice a**.'
She then asked him where he got the pictures from, to which he replied: 'I'm a wizard, I have lots. Did you like it?'
He then said he could send it on to one of her friends and included a list of emails of the victim's acquaintances.
Ford is facing charges of cyberstalking and computer hacking. Authorities detained him last week at Atlanta's Hartfield-Jackson international airport as he prepared to board a flight back to London with his wife and their son.
Authorities in the US also obtained records from UK law enforcement agents regarding an e-mail stalking and harassment complaint they received in 2013.
UK law enforcement traced the e-mail messages back to the residence of 'Michael Ford,' and their who lived in South Croydon, London.
Two lawyers representing Ford didn't immediately return messages Thursday.
Pete Wellborn, a cyber expert and attorney, said Ford is a 'despicable human' if the charges turn out to be true.
According to the Atlanta Constitution Journal, federal prosecutor Mona Sedky vehemently opposed bond for Ford.
He remains in custody and is scheduled to have his first hearing on June 1.
At Thursday's State Department briefing, spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed Ford was no longer employed in the position. However she would not elaborate on any other details