Teens arrested in alleged MySpace extortion scam

Two N.Y. teens are charged with threatening the popular Web site with malicious code and attempting to extort $150,000.

Joris Evers Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Joris Evers covers security.
Joris Evers
2 min read
Two New York teenagers have been arrested and charged with attempting to extort $150,000 from MySpace, the popular community Web site.

Shaun Harrison, 18, and Saverio Mondelli, 19, both of whom are from Suffolk County, N.Y., were arrested in a sting operation last week, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office said Wednesday. The pair had traveled to Los Angeles to meet people they allegedly believed were MySpace employees, but who were in fact undercover investigators, according to the district attorney's statement.

The alleged crimes began late last year when the two young men took advantage of a flaw they had discovered in the MySpace Web site in order to obtain personal information on MySpace users, the district attorney said.

MySpace discovered the intrusion earlier this year and blocked it. The Los Angeles-based company also reported the incident to authorities. During the course of the investigation, threats were made that unless $150,000 was paid, new exploit code would be released, according to the statement.

By this time, the sting operation had been set up, so instead of meeting with MySpace late last week, the pair from New York met with undercover officers from the U.S. Secret Service and the Los Angeles District Attorney's Bureau of Investigation.

Harrison and Mondelli, both programmers, operated a Web site called MySpacePlus.com, according to the district attorney's office. The Web site looks to be a storefront for SpyFuse, which appears to be a tool that can be used to manipulate MySpace. A statement on the Web site says the tool is currently unavailable due to an "unexpected legal complication."

MySpace declined to comment other than to say that executives are cooperating with law enforcement. The company, owned by News Corp., recently reported that membership has grown to 70 million.

Jane Robinson, press secretary for the L.A. district attorney's office, said that Harrison and Mondelli were charged with multiple felony counts, including illegal computer access, sending a threatening letter for extortion and attempted extortion.

The pair could be sent to prison for more than four years if convicted, Robinson said. Both men were arraigned this week and pleaded not guilty. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for June 5.