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  • Elena Zhou

Mysterious Book Thief Who Haunted the Publishing World for Years Is Finally Caught by FBI

According to officials, a mysterious individual who tormented the literary world for years by stealing unpublished manuscripts was finally arrested by the FBI in January and identified as Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian national and publishing worker. Over the course of five years, the mystery thief utilised hundreds of phony email accounts and domains to mislead publishing figures all over the world into sending over manuscripts, including some of the most eagerly awaited books. He would frequently alter one's email address to make the victim believe it was a colleague or author requesting the valuable material. Surprisingly, the manuscripts never wound up on the black market or in ransom demands. Even stranger, the thief took both high-profile publications and debut novels by unknown authors. At JFK Airport, the FBI detained Bernardini, a rights coordinator for a London-based multinational publisher, and charged him with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

On one level, the scam appears to have been fairly sophisticated; his knowledge of the industry allowed him to impersonate senior publishing figures online, his familiarity with names and jargon meant his phishing emails went unnoticed by their intended recipients, and he registered over 160 domain names from which to send his messages. However, the scheme was humorously crude on another level: his false email addresses had purposeful misspellings such as "@penguinrandornhouse" instead of "randomhouse," and for five years, publishers, agents, and writers were deceived into delivering digital copies of new books to him.

Bernardini's alleged misdeeds are all the more fascinating because he doesn't appear to have benefited financially from them thus far. No ransom or extortion requests were ever made for the stolen books, which included renowned names like Margaret Atwood, Stieg Larsson, and Sally Rooney as well as obscure rookie authors. The thief did not appear to be stealing the books to release the texts or to make a profit. So, what's the deal? For the time being, the answer remains unknown.

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