Italian man arrested for stealing unpublished book manuscripts

The US has arrested and charged an Italian national who was behind a five-year phishing scheme during which he impersonated people in the book publishing business in order to steal manuscripts for unpublished books and novels.

Filippo Bernardini, 29, a citizen of Italy who lives and works in London, was arrested at the JFK airport in New York on Wednesday.

According to court documents [PDF], since August 2016, Bernardini registered more than 160 domains with names similar to the real names of literary talent agencies, publishing houses, and literary scouts.

The suspect then created email addresses for these domains that mimicked real persons working at the impersonated companies.

"We allege Mr. Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the industry to get authors to send him their unpublished books and texts by posing as agents, publishing houses, and literary scouts," Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said in a press release today.

"Mr. Bernardini was allegedly trying to steal other people's literary ideas for himself, but in the end he wasn't creative enough to get away with it," Driscoll added.

Book thief mystery solved

Although no major leaks occurred from Bernardini's thefts, the book industry had been aware of the phishing attacks and the manuscript thefts for years, with several book publishers taking steps to proactively avoid falling victims to the attacks.

Until his arrest, Bernardini was never suspected, and in a Vulture article from August 2021, a German book rights management company even speculated that a cybersecurity company could have been behind the attacks as part of a scheme to sell them security software.

Bernardini's arrest yesterday ends a long mystery that has impacted some of today's major book publishers and major literary authors.

Among those who had manuscripts stolen as part of Bernardini's scheme there are Margaret Atwood, Stieg Larsson, Sally Rooney, and actor Ethan Hawke, according to reports from the BBCThe Guardian, and the New York Times, all of which have been following this scheme for years after some of their own reporters had manuscripts stolen as well.

Bernardini was charged today in a New York court with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years and two years in prison, respectively.

According to his LinkedIn page, Bernardini worked as a rights coordinator for book publisher Simon & Schuster UK's division prior to his arrest and worked for other companies in the book publishing business before that, which would explain his detailed knowledge of the industry.

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Catalin Cimpanu

Catalin Cimpanu is a cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He previously worked at ZDNet and Bleeping Computer, where he became a well-known name in the industry for his constant scoops on new vulnerabilities, cyberattacks, and law enforcement actions against hackers.