A former U.S. State Department employee has pleaded guilty to charges that he ran a massive "sextortion" scheme, hacking into the computers of scores of young women in an attempt to procure sexually explicit material.
Michael C. Ford, 36, of Atlanta, pleaded guilty in federal court on Wednesday to nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud. He was arrested in May as he attempted to return to London after visiting his parents in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Authorities said Ford posed as a member of an "account deletion team" for a well-known email service provider to get potential victims to provide their passwords. He then was able to hack into hundreds of email and social media accounts, where he searched for sexually explicit photos. Ford used the stolen photos and personal information to cyberstalk and extort his victims.
"Ford emailed his victims with their stolen photos attached and threatened to release those photos if they did not cede to his demands. Ford repeatedly demanded that victims take sexually explicit videos of 'sexy girls' undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, and then send the videos to him," prosecutors said in a news release.
Many of Ford's victims were female students at U.S. colleges and universities. He particularly targeted sorority members and aspiring models.
"Don't worry, it's not like I know where you live," he allegedly wrote in one email. He later described the victim's home to her, stating "I like your red fire escape ladder, easy to climb."
In all, Ford successfully hacked into the accounts of at least 200 victims, sending "sextortionate" online communications to at least 75 of them, prosecutors said.
Ford will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Eleanor L. Ross of the Northern District of Georgia on Feb. 16.