State Department Employee Accused of ‘Sextortion’
ATLANTA, May 21 (UPI) — A State Department employee working at the U.S. Embassy in Britain was arrested in Atlanta for allegedly hacking into college-aged women’s email accounts and using explicit photographs he found to blackmail them.
Michael Ford was arrested Sunday at Hartford Jackson International Airport as he, his wife and son attempted to fly back to Britain after visiting family in Georgia.
He faces charges of interstate threats, fraud in connection with computers, wire fraud and cyberstalking.
In a complaint filed against him, Ford is accused of hacking into the email accounts of two women — an 18-year-old in Kentucky and a 22-year-old in Illinois — to obtain sexually explicit photos of them. He then allegedly sent harassing emails to the women.
“I want you to video girls in the changing room [of her gym],” one email read. “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!”
Investigators traced the IP addresses used to send those emails to Ford’s work station at the U.S. Embassy in London, where State Department officials said he is the only one to use that particular computer. On Ford’s network account at the embassy, investigators also found a spreadsheet containing the addresses and passwords to more than 250 email accounts with information about the users’ Facebook and other photo-sharing accounts online.
The complaint said many of the email addresses came from college domains and a number belonged to multiple young women in the same sorority at a college in Indiana, one of whom was 17 years old.
“This leads me to believe that Ford may be targeting college-aged women throughout the United States,” the lead investigator wrote in the complaint.
Meanwhile, a criminal record linked to Ford’s social security number and birth date includes a number of “peeping tom-like” offenses. Law enforcement in Britain also said they received an email stalking and harassment complaint against an email account traced back to Ford’s residence in London.
Ford has worked for the State Department since 2009.