Simanaitis Says

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DEADLY CONS PART 2

YESTERDAY’S CON WAS a Ponzi scheme expanded to absurdity. Today in Part 2, a man’s death is related to something as seemingly innocuous as  his Twitter hand.

Handles For Sale. Probably as long as there has been need for verifiable identification, buying and selling of such information has existed. I recall reading years ago in Brit car magazines the active market existing for particular auto number plates. 

Combine this with the Internet, and online handles become more than a market, they become part of an evil con. And, in the following case, alas, it’s a deadly one.

Maria Cramer gives details in The New York Times, July 24, 2021, in “A Grandfather Died in ‘Swatting’ Over His Twitter Handle, Officials Say.”

Mark Herring died of a heart attack in April 2020 after the police swarmed his house in response to a fake report of a murder there. Image via Corina Fitch from The New York Times, July 24, 2021.

This began back in March 2007, when computer programmer Herring joined Twitter and, being a proud resident, chose “@tennessee” as his handle. 

From time to time over the years, he had rebuffed offers of $3000 to $4000 for the handle. But then matters took a evil turn when a fellow Tennessean, 20-year-old Shane Sonderman, and others formed an online business flipping catchy social-media names. 

This was honest enough, until the group turned to “swatting,” that is, intimidating those who weren’t interested in dealing with them. If you didn’t want to sell your handle, you’d start getting harassing phone calls and text messages. Or even “doxxing,” unwanted disclosure of information such as address, phone number, and the like.

As harassment, on April 27, 2020, Sonderman posted Herring’s name and address online. The NYT’s Cramer describes the tragic turn of events when police stormed the Herring residence that night: “Someone with a British accent had called emergency services in Sumner County and reported having shot a woman in the back of the head at Mr. Herring’s address. The caller had threatened to set off pipe bombs at the front and back doors if officers came, according to federal court records.”

“When the police arrived,” Cramer writes, “they drew their guns and told Mr. Herring, a 60-year-old computer programmer and grandfather of six, to come out and keep his hands visible. As he walked out, he lost his balance and fell. He was pronounced dead that same night at a nearby hospital. The cause of death was a heart attack, according to court records.”

After Sonderman pleaded guilty on March 22, 2021, according to federal prosecutors he continued his swatting activities. On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, Sonderman was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy. It’s not known whether the minor in the United Kingdom could be extradited to face charges in Tennessee. 

After reading Cramer’s report, I suspect there’s certainly enough guilt to go around. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

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