The FBI arrested a suspect in a years-long book publishing phishing scam that targeted authors like Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke

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Books on a library shelf
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  • The FBI accused Filippo Bernardini of running a years-long email phishing scheme to steal unpublished manuscripts.

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

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

The FBI has arrested an Italian man they suspect of being the mysterious scammer who ran a years-long email phishing scheme to steal hundreds of book manuscripts.

Filippo Bernardini was arrested on Wednesday when he landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport, 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 had told The BBC in 2019 that she and her publisher were sent "fake emails" from "cybercriminals" in an effort to steal the manuscript for the sequel to "The Handmaid's Tale."

The indictment alleges Bernardini impersonated "literary talent agencies, publishing houses, literary scouts, and others" by using fraudulent email accounts to scam unwitting authors out of their unpublished manuscripts.

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 are "shocked and horrified" by the charges against Bernardini.

The indictment alleges Bernardini used his inside knowledge of the industry to create fake emails for real people who worked at different publishing houses, using slightly different letters, such as an "rn" in place of an "m."

Bernardini is accused of sending messages from hundreds of fake email accounts that all received responses at a common address. The indictment alleges Bernardini asked one Pulitzer Prize-winning author for a copy of their 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 Bernardini created "at least two malicious webpages" that resemble the homepage of the scouting company's database, which contains synopses and other information regarding upcoming books.

Bernardini emailed employees at the scouting company from a fake email address, the indictment alleges, and then directed them to use a fake landing page that prompted them to enter their usernames and passwords. Logs maintained by the scouting company show those accounts were "subject to unauthorized access" after Bernardini received their login information, according to the indictment.

Manuscripts that were successfully stolen in the phishing scheme never made it to the black market, but instead "just seem to vanish," The Times reported. The indictment doesn't detail what the suspected scammer did with the unpublished material.

"Unpublished manuscripts are works of art to the writers who spend the time and energy creating them," Michael Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI's New York office, said in a statement. "Publishers do all they can to protect those unpublished pieces because of their value."

Bernardini is expected to appear in court before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon on Thursday.

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