Former State Department staffer pleads guilty to ‘sextortion’ scheme

A former U.S. State Department employee who cyberstalked women on the Internet in a massive “sextortion” scheme has pleaded guilty to computer hacking and extortion, U.S. Attorney John Horn announced Wednesday.

Michael C. Ford, who worked at the U.S. embassy in London, admitted hacking hundreds of victims’ email and social media accounts to steal thousands of sexually explicit photographs. He also threatened at least 75 victims that he would release their photos unless they sent him more sexually explicit material, including videos of other women undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, according to federal officials.

“Ford engaged in an international sextortion campaign,” Horn said. “He tormented numerous women by threatening to humiliate them unless they provided him with sexually explicit photos and videos, and in some cases, he followed through on his threats.”

Federal agents arrested Ford, who used various aliases online, at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport when he was visiting his parents in Alpharetta in May.

Ford successfully hacked into at least 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims from his computer at the U.S. Embassy. He often targeted members of university sororities or aspiring models with “phishing” emails that allowed him to steal photos from their email and social media accounts, Horn said.

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The phishing emails were masked as coming from an official Google account that threatened to shut down the victims’ accounts unless the women verified their information and provided a password, according to a federal warrant.

Ford, 36, then emailed his victims their sexually explicit photos and threatened to release them if they didn’t comply with his demands such as to secretly record videos of other “sexy girls” undressing.

When victims refused to comply or threatened to go to the police, Ford, at least on several occasions, sent his victims’ photographs to family members and friends. Regarding one recalcitrant victim, he threatened to post her revealing photos to an “escort/hooker” with her home phone number and later described her home to her, stating, “I like your red fire escape ladder, easy to climb,” according to prosecutors

Sentencing for Ford is scheduled for Feb. 16 before U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross.

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