These were confusing thefts, with no clear motive or reward, and they occurred in the distinguished, not particularly lucrative world of publishing: someone was stealing manuscripts of unpublished books.
The thefts and attempted thefts took place mainly through email, by a fraudster posing as professional publishers and targeting authors, publishers, agents and literary scouts who may have drafts of novels and books. ‘other books.
The mystery can now be solved. The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday arrested Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster UK, saying he had “impersonated, defrauded and attempted to defraud hundreds of individuals” over five years or more, obtaining hundreds of unpublished manuscripts in the process.
Mr. Bernardini, who was arrested after landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport, has been charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft by US District Court for the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson for the Southern District said Mr Bernardini did not yet have a lawyer.
A spokesperson for Simon & Schuster, in a statement, said the publisher was “shocked and horrified” by the allegations Mr. Bernardini is facing and that he was suspended until there was further information on the case.
“Protecting the intellectual property of our authors is of paramount importance to Simon & Schuster, and to all in the publishing industry, and we are grateful to the FBI for investigating these incidents and for having brought charges against the alleged perpetrator, “he added. Simon & Schuster was not charged with wrongdoing in the indictment.
According to the indictment, in order to get his hands on the manuscripts, Mr. Bernardini would send emails posing as real people working in the publishing industry – a specific publisher, for example – using fake email addresses. It would use slightly modified domain names like penguinrandornhouse.com instead of penguinrandomhouse.com, putting an “rn” in place of an “m”. The indictment said he had registered more than 160 fraudulent Internet domains posing as professionals and publishing companies.
Mr. Bernardini also targeted a New York-based literary screening company. He set up impostor login pages that tricked his victims into entering their usernames and passwords, which gave him wide access to the tracing company’s database.
Mr Bernardini left some digital crumbs online, omitting his last name on his social media accounts, like Twitter and LinkedIn, where he described an “obsession with writing and languages”. According to his LinkedIn profile, he received his bachelor’s degree in Chinese language from UniversitÃ Cattolica in Milan, and later served as the Italian translator for Chinese comic book author Rao Pingru’s memoir, “Our Story”. He also obtained a Masters in Publishing from University College London and described his passion as ensuring that “books can be read and enjoyed all over the world and in multiple languages”.
Many publishers who received the phishing emails noted that whoever wrote them was clearly familiar with the industry. The thief sometimes used common abbreviations, such as “ms” for manuscript, and understood how a book got from point to point on the way to publication. The phishing attacks were so large and far-reaching, hitting publishing professionals in the United States, Sweden and Taiwan, among other countries, that some said it couldn’t be work. of one person.
For years, the program has baffled people in the book world. The works of prominent writers and celebrities like Margaret Atwood and Ethan Hawke were targeted, as were collections of stories and works by first-time authors. When the manuscripts were successfully stolen, none of them appeared to appear on the black market or the dark web. The ransom demands never materialized. Indeed, the indictment details how Mr. Bernardini proceeded, but not why.
Early knowledge in a rights department could be an advantage for an employee trying to prove their worth. Publishers compete and bid to publish works overseas, for example, and knowing what’s coming up, who’s buying what, and how much they’re paying could give companies an edge.
“What he stole,” said Kelly Farber, a literary scout, “is essentially a huge amount of information that any editor could use to their advantage.”
In a press release announcing the arrest, US Attorney Damian Williams said, “This actual story now reads like a cautionary tale, with the intrigue of Bernardini facing federal criminal charges for his misdeeds.”