An article with the title ‘Hunt for the Book Thief in a literary Whodunnit’ by Anita Singh appeared in the 7 January 2022 issue of The Daily Telegraph.
“It was a mystery which gripped the publishing world: who was the secret fraudster behind a scheme to steal unpublished manuscripts? The scammer targeted hundreds of victims by assuming the identities of editors, agents and literary scouts in a global fraud spanning five years. On Wednesday, the FBI announced it had arrested and charged a suspect – Filippo Bernardini, 29, who had a lowly job in the rights department of the London office of Simon & Schuster.
“While it had long been suspected that the culprit had links to the publishing industry – they used familiar abbreviations such as ‘ms’ for ‘manuscript’ – the arrest came as a shock. Some of those targeted had dealt with Mr Bernardini on a professional basis. Mr Bernardini, an Italian citizen who studied for a masters degree in publishing at University College London, was arrested at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport. He is charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Prosecutors allege the Mr Bernardini impersonated, defrauded and attempted to defraud hundreds of individuals. The indictment did not mention the manuscripts in question. However authors who have been targeted by such a scam over the last five years include two of the world’s bestselling novelists – Margaret Atwood and Jo Nesbo and their books The Testaments and Knife – and at least one Pulitzer Prize winner.
“The charges allege that between 2016 and July last year, Mr Bernardini ‘engaged in a scheme to fraudulently obtain valuable prepublication manuscripts of novels and other forthcoming books, as well as synopses and other notes and reports related to unpublished books.’ He allegedly did this by creating lookalike email addresses – for example, replacing the letter ‘m’ in penguinrandomhouse.com with ‘rn’, a tiny, easily overlooked adjustment. According to prosecutors, Mr Benardini registered more than 160 fraudulent internet domains. All would forward to a single email address that he controlled.
The Indictment says Mr Bernardini devised the scheme to obtain ‘money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses’. However the motive is obscure, as some of those targeted were little-known novelists. No ransom demands were made, and the manuscripts were never pirated. . . . Michael J Driscoll, of the FBI, said ‘he was allegedly trying to steal others’ literary ideas for himself.'”
It seems to me that Mr Bernardini was indeed trying to steal others’ literary ideas for himself, as he made no apparent attempt to monetise the information he obtained. We authors must be careful in our correspondence with publishers, agents and literary scouts. And the industry needs to tighten its internal controls.