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Sat. Jul 13th, 2024

Seattle man imprisoned for giant cyberstalking campaign

By meerna Jul11,2024
Seattle man imprisoned for giant cyberstalking campaign

A Seattle man convicted of sending thousands of threatening online messages was sentenced to nine years in prison in the latest digital harassment campaign to sweep the nation as courts grapple with a rise in cyberstalking cases.

Former privacy consultant Sumit Garg sent death and rape threats to lawyers, police, prosecutors, a former roommate and her romantic partners through dozens of online accounts, prosecutors announced Wednesday. A federal jury found him guilty in March of cyberstalking charges following investigations by the Secret Service and Seattle Police Department.

“The cyberstalking activities of this defendant are unparalleled in this District and indeed nationwide. Through thousands of email and text messages Mr. Garg threatened violence against his victims – including police and prosecutors,” said US Attorney Tessa Gorman. “Federal detention finally stopped him, and this sentence will protect the public for years to come.”

Federal cyberstalking lawsuits have steadily increased since 2014 as use of social media platforms and other communication technology grows, but researchers warn the US legal system is ill-equipped to prosecute such crimes.

Court papers detail months of gruesome threats

Court documents filed in US District Court of Western District of Washington detailed Garg’s sprawling harassment campaign that began in 2019 and ended with his arrest two years later. The messages ranged from photos he emailed to his victim of her apartment lobby to lengthy threats of rape, torture and death. Garg also used social media accounts and his digital savviness to make himself appear as the victim, according to prosecutors.

Garg also enlisted his wife to aid in his cyberstalking campaign, and prosecutors said she later cooperated with investigators, telling them he had threatened her if she refused.

The Seattle Police Department launched its investigation into the incidents in 2020 when the first victim, a former roommate of Garg who is not named in court records, showed evidence of threatening emails she received that included details from her diary about past relationships. Investigators later found Garg’s fingerprints on the notebook, according to court filings.

The woman, referred to as “Victim-1” in the complaint, appeared at the center of the cyberstalking campaign as Garg later targeted her uncle, romantic partners and attorneys.

Victim-1 and Garg’s wife shared an apartment in Belltown, Seattle, and he moved in with them in January 2019. The victim said his behavior changed after that as he began to call her derogatory names, texted sexual messages and had “random outbursts,” court documents said.

The woman hastily moved out of their shared apartment after a violent encounter with Garg in June 2019 and sought a temporary domestic violence protection order, according to court documents. He signed a settlement agreement stating that he would have no contact with her but applied for a job soon after with her employer. The company denied his application after Victim-1 disclosed the settlement.

The victim’s uncle helped her get legal protection and was later targeted in the cyberstalking campaign.

Garg also used his technological skills to make threats against several others in Victim-1’s life, including her boyfriend, the Seattle police detective who investigated the threats, and the attorney who prosecuted Garg for stalking, court documents detailed. He used digital tools to conceal who was sending the threats.

A federal jury convicted Garg of conspiracy to engage in cyberstalking, three counts of cyberstalking in violation of a criminal order and three counts of cyberstalking.

An attorney listed for Garg in court records did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s requests for comment Wednesday.

“Justice was served today. The US Secret Service is satisfied with the outcome of this case, which is a culmination of the work of motivated agents and analysts, applying their skillsets and tools to bring an end to an unprecedented cyberstalking campaign against multiple victims,” said US Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Glen Peterson. “I hope the victims can find some closure to the nightmares they endured during Mr. Garg’s relentless reign of harassment.”

2023 report: Legal system ‘underprepared’ for cyberstalking cases

Cyberstalking, which has become more prevalent with the rise of social media, uses communications technology to stalk, harass or share embarrassing information about victims.

“As online platforms and messaging technologies have multiplied, cyberstalking has become more prevalent. “Yet the problem has been understudied, and its dynamics are not well known,” said a 2023 report sponsored by the National Institute of Justice, a research agency of the Justice Department.

The study said federally prosecuted cyberstalking cases have steadily risen since 2014, with a slight dip in 2020. Between 2010 and 2020, 412 such cases were filed in federal court, and in most of them, the victim knew the offender. But despite the rise in lawsuits, researchers found the courts were ill-equipped to handle them.

One major roadblock in prosecuting cyberstalking cases is tying the digital evidence to the offender because tech-savvy criminals know how to hide their tracks.

“The legal system is underprepared to handle cyberstalking cases: Law enforcement is seldom able to prioritize or allot substantial resources to cyberstalking, and many agents and officers lack training in how to investigate the crime or help victims.”

By meerna

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