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Thread: The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

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    The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive...pranknet1.html

    (PAGE 1 of 3)

    A TSG investigation unmasks the leader of Pranknet and the miscreants
    behind a year-long wave of phone call criminality

    AUGUST 4--At 4:15 AM on a recent Tuesday, on a quiet, darkened street
    in Windsor, Ontario, a man was wrapping up another long day
    tormenting and terrorizing strangers on the telephone. Working from a
    sparsely furnished two-bedroom apartment in a ramshackle building a
    block from the Detroit River, the man, nicknamed "Dex", heads a
    network of so-called pranksters who have spent more than a year
    engaged in an orgy of criminal activity--vandalism, threats,
    harassment, impersonation, hacking, and other assorted felonies and
    misdemeanors--targeting U.S. businesses and residents.

    Coalescing in an online chat room, members of the group, known as
    Pranknet, use the telephone to carry out cruel and outrageous hoaxes,
    which they broadcast live around-the-clock on the Internet.
    Masquerading as hotel employees, emergency service workers, and
    representatives of fire alarm companies, "Dex" and his cohorts have
    successfully prodded unwitting victims to destroy hotel rooms and
    lobbies, set off sprinkler systems, activate fire alarms, and damage
    assorted fast food restaurants.

    But while Pranknet's hoaxes have caused millions of dollars in
    damages, it is the group's efforts to degrade and frighten targets
    that makes it even more odious. For example, a bizarre July 20 prank
    ended with a hotel worker actually sipping from a urine sample
    provided by a guest at a Homewood Suites in Kentucky. Additionally,
    at least twice this year, fast food workers--fearing that they would
    suffer burns after being doused by chemicals from a fire suppression
    system--stripped off their clothes on the sidewalk outside their
    respective restaurants.

    "Dex", who took his nickname from the lead character in "Dexter," the
    Showtime series about a serial killer who murders serial killers, is
    bitingly contemptuous of law enforcement and its ability to stop
    Pranknet or locate its members. When a victim warns him that they are
    contacting police, he laughs derisively and offers to provide cops
    with a crayon to trace his number. He and his followers place their
    prank calls via Skype, confident that the Internet phone service
    sufficiently cloaks their identities and whereabouts.

    By any measure, "Dex" is a sociopath, a mean-spirited sadist who
    spews a barrage of racial epithets, vulgarities, and threats, and
    clearly enjoys the panic, fear, and damage he causes. While his
    frauds and sinister manipulations often rely on naive and compliant
    dupes, "Dex" prefers to make it appear that he is practicing some
    mysterious alchemy. "About to social engineer some people into doing
    wild shit," he announced in a late-May Twitter post.

    As the leader of what is essentially an online criminal organization,
    "Dex" has been careful to cloak details about his life and specific
    location, relying on a small circle of Pranknet confidants to help
    underwrite the operation and conduct financial transactions on his
    behalf.

    But a seven-week investigation by The Smoking Gun has begun to
    unravel "Dex"'s organization and chronicle the sprawl of its
    criminality. The TSG probe has also stripped Pranknet's leader and
    some of his cohorts of their anonymity, which will likely come as
    welcome news to the numerous law enforcement agencies, including the
    FBI, probing the group's activities.

    On July 21, a pair of TSG reporters approached "Dex"'s building at
    1637 Assumption Street in Windsor, where he lives in the ground-floor
    'B' apartment. Calling to his mother, who was standing near an open
    living room window, a reporter asked her to summon her son. The woman
    disappeared into "Dex"'s adjoining bedroom, where the pair could be
    heard whispering. Despite repeated requests to come out and speak
    with TSG, "Dex" hid with his mother in his bedroom, the windows of
    which were covered with plastic shopping bags, a towel, and one black
    trash bag.

    As the sun set and his room darkened, "Dex" did not reach to turn on
    a light. The notorious Internet Tough Guy, who has gleefully used the
    telephone to cause all kinds of havoc, was now himself panicking. He
    had been found. And, as a result, was barricaded in Pranknet World
    Headquarters with his mom, while two reporters loitered outside his
    window and curious neighbors wondered what was up.

    That's when the online outlaw came up with a plan.

    Tariq Malik, the 25-year-old founder and leader of Pranknet, decided
    to call the police.

    It was a move that would have chagrined his devoted followers, whose
    "Dex" is a bombastic, sharp-tongued cop hater. On the mic, he is
    always ready to pulverize victims, denigrating them as weak faggots,
    pussies, cock gobblers, niggers, beaners, and every other racial slur
    imaginable (though, notably, Malik does not take part in vicious chat
    room abuse directed at "Pakis," the group's catch-all term for Middle
    Eastern and Asian immigrants).

    Cowering in his room with his mother, Malik called 911 to report
    "suspicious persons" outside his home (it is unclear whether he used
    Skype to beckon cops). According to Windsor Police Service records,
    Malik asked not to be contacted by officers when they arrived at the
    Assumption Street address. Despite that request, Fouzia Malik, 51,
    eventually allowed a pair of Windsor patrolmen to enter the family's
    $600-a-month apartment. The officers spent about 30 minutes
    conferring with Tariq before emerging to report that he did not wish
    to speak with reporters.

    It will likely not be the last time law enforcement finds itself
    inside Tariq Malik's bedroom.

    * * *

    Late on the evening of February 10, a call to Room 306 at the Best
    Western in Shillington, Pennsylvania roused a sleeping traveler.
    Jonathan Davis at the front desk was calling with scary news: A
    ruptured gas line was threatening hotel guests, some of whom were
    already feeling lightheaded and dizzy.

    Noting that he was following a "protocol sheet," Davis instructed the
    male guest that he needed to quickly unplug all electrical devices
    and place wet towels at the base of the room's door to keep carbon
    monoxide from entering the space. After the guest took those
    precautions, Davis then directed him to bust out a 5' x 5' section of
    window. The man, who happened to be a glazier, asked, "Are you
    serious?" When Davis urgently assured him that the drastic measure
    was required for his safety, the guest replied that he would put on
    clothes and "bust this fucker."

    Using a chair, the guest then smashed a window. As broken glass
    cascaded into the room, Davis then advised that the television screen
    would need to broken since the tube contained an electrical charge
    that could spark an explosion. Davis suggested the use of the toilet
    tank cover to disable the television. But when the guest threw the
    porcelain lid at the TV, it broke. So Davis directed the man to toss
    the set out the window. Stepping gingerly around glass shards, the
    guest complied.

    At this point, Davis's supervisor, Jeff Anderson, joined the call and
    determined that the guests in 306 had co-workers in the adjoining
    room. Anderson then called Room 304 and advised the man answering the
    phone to "remain calm." He told the guest of the gas leak and advised
    him of the safety measures that had already been followed next door.
    The man in 304 also unplugged electrical devices, placed wet towels
    at the door, smashed a window, and tossed the television to the
    sidewalk below. Anderson then directed the guest to pull the fire
    alarm. As a siren wailed, the guest asked Anderson, "Can we get out
    of this motel? Why can't we just leave the building?" He had
    previously remarked, "I hope this ain't some kind of joke."

    The call, of course, was the work of Pranknet. Malik played the role
    of "Anderson," while "Davis" was portrayed by another chat room
    regular who uses the nickname "DTA_Mike." While capitalizing on their
    victims's disorientation and fear, Malik and his sidekick spoke
    authoritatively and were politely insistent. Malik excels at this
    sort of manipulation and reinforcement, which often includes the
    introduction of a second person--usually a supposed manager or
    supervisor--to underscore the urgency of a purported threat.

    At the close of the Pennsylvania prank, Malik was pleased. "That's
    some funny shit, dude," he remarked to online listeners.

    The Best Western call was one of Malik's earliest successful efforts
    to cause damage at a U.S. hotel. On February 19, he and a crony
    reprised the gas leak prank at a Best Western in Santee, California
    (since Pranknet members never have the name of an actual hotel guest,
    they just ask for a random room number). Around midnight, they were
    connected to Room 208, where a woman answered the phone. Hotel
    employee "Jonathan Davis" apprised the guest of a dangerous gas leak,
    and relayed safety instructions he was receiving from the "Department
    of Fire and Safety."

    Soon, with the help of a male cousin, the woman was breaking windows.
    Without identifying himself, Malik joined the call and said, "You
    guys creating that airflow is definitely helping the situation right
    now." He then warned her that the TV "could potentially explode" and
    needed to be smashed. When the male guest balked at destroying the
    set, Malik urged her to "step up" and "deactivate the transformer in
    the TV, ma'am." He also claimed that hotel employees were "working on
    contingency plans to get you out of that room."

    As she grew more frantic, the crying woman pleaded, "Can I leave? I
    want to get out of this room. Please."

    When it appeared as if the guests had finally fled the room, Malik
    and his coconspirator--who were joined via a balky Skype
    connection--conferred about their next move with Pranknet listeners
    commenting via a chat window. Malik sought audience input on whether
    he should try to prank another room or call the front desk to
    complain about "a crazy bitch in 208."

    [A tape of the harrowing Santee call can be listened to in the column
    at right.]

    When San Diego County Sheriff's Department deputies responded to a
    911 call from the Best Western, they questioned the Room 208 guests
    about the trashed room. The man told cops what appeared to be a
    harebrained story about how he caused the damage at the direction of
    a front desk employee, according to a sheriff's spokesperson. In a
    bid to avoid arrest, the man, a parolee, agreed to immediately pay
    cash to cover the damages.

    While the Santee hoax was a Pranknet success--significant damage,
    bedlam, and a crying woman, to boot--Malik was nonetheless a bit
    melancholy. Only 38 listeners were enjoying the prank as it unspooled
    over ten minutes. Such a virtuosic performance deserved a massive
    audience, he must have thought. It was as if Malik was singing at La
    Scala for just the stagehands.

    Malik's desire to grow his audience has dovetailed with the
    escalation of Pranknet's criminal activities over the past year. He
    and his accomplices have sought to perpetrate the kind of damaging
    pranks that listeners would consider "epic," the chat room's highest
    compliment. A prank caller also gets kudos when an antagonized victim
    yells or curses back at them. Eliciting such "rage" is a Pranknet
    rite of passage.

    Malik appears to believe that Pranknet will someday achieve the
    mainstream success of the Jerky Boys or Comedy Central's "Crank
    Yankers." He remarked one evening that, "If we get it big enough, it
    could get more than just fun." To date, his bid to expand Pranknet's
    audience has met with limited success. During the weeks that TSG
    monitored the chat room (for a total of about 150 hours), the largest
    audience at any one time barely topped 200 listeners.

    This modest growth, however, has come with significant challenges for
    Malik. Many new listeners appear to have arrived at Pranknet after
    seeing recent media accounts about individual damaging hoaxes (which
    have been widely discussed on popular sites like Stickam.com and
    Fark.com, and the 4chan.org message board). This new crowd, Malik
    believes, includes law enforcement officers, journalists, and other
    unwelcome "trolls."

    The increased scrutiny (and TSG's impending story) have left Malik
    paranoid. So he has gone on a mole hunt, of sorts, capturing the
    Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of visitors in a bid to somehow
    sniff out interlopers (New York City residents are immediately
    suspect since TSG is headquartered in Manhattan). In a post last
    week, the flustered Pranknet chief notified chat room visitors that
    phone pranks were not to result in damage, broken glass, etc. So it
    had come to this: Malik was being forced to deny his own heritage.

    Malik was more cocky and carefree when he agreed to a recent TSG
    interview (back when he was still known to a reporter as only "Dex").
    Calling via his beloved Skype, Malik, of course, expressed no remorse
    for his stunts. Prank targets, he declared, were "responsible for
    their own actions." The victims he and his cronies abused and
    degraded daily were simply "sheep" with "no brains of their own."

    One of Pranknet's goals, Malik said, was to prove how "stupid" its
    targets were. When a reporter then facetiously asked if such an
    unmasking of low-wage fast food and hotel workers was somehow a
    public service, Malik gave a serious answer. "In a sense, yes," he
    said.

    The doughy Malik, by all indications, is a virtual shut-in. Neighbors
    interviewed barely remembered ever seeing him. A woman who lives next
    door recalled spotting him one time, after the building's fire alarm
    was pulled and residents had to briefly evacuate their apartments. A
    former landlord rented to Fouzia Malik for a year, but did not know
    Tariq lived in his three-unit building until the night a fire
    destroyed the property.

    A story about that September 2008 blaze appeared in The Windsor Star,
    which reported that Malik, without a shirt or shoes, fled when he saw
    smoke billowing from the building. "But the online businessman," the
    Star noted, "could not simply watch his home burn without doing
    something." Malik told a reporter, "I ran back inside and said, 'I've
    got to save something. So I grabbed my laptop." Without that heroic
    action--screw the family photos and heirlooms--Pranknet was saved
    from a fiery, if temporary, death. "We need to find a place to live,"
    Malik told the Star. "I feel displaced, disoriented, borderline
    lost."

    While TSG reporters watched his residence over two days last month,
    Malik's mother Fouzia twice left to ride the bus to do grocery
    shopping. Her son, though, never emerged from the apartment. Over the
    past several years, the Maliks have bounced from a series of cheap
    Windsor flats, even once spending time in a rooming house. Malik has
    told online acquaintances that his father, a plumber, died about a
    decade ago, and that money is frequently in short supply.

    Offline friends--if they even exist--are minimal. He is part of that
    young male subspecies that does not have a job or a girlfriend,
    passed on college, and spends hours a day playing so-called
    first-person shooter games like "Counter-Strike," "Halo," and
    "Crossfire." Malik addresses everyone--including the Pranknet
    audience itself--as "Dude." He steals his Wi-Fi. And he'd certainly
    be living in his mother's basement if she had one.

    While Malik can be engaging, quick-witted, and funny on the mic, he
    is also a brute with a coarse worldview: most people are simps
    looking for a handout and are deserving of abuse. The source of such
    misanthropy is unknown, but it is seconded and abetted by Pranknet's
    malicious amen chorus. In a June 17 interview, Malik blithely said he
    was not concerned about calls being traced to him, reflecting the
    sort of misplaced confidence shared by many of his online associates.

  2. #2
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    Re: The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

    (PAGE 2 of 3)

    In addition to Malik, TSG's probe has identified an assortment of
    other formerly invincible Pranknet regulars. This band of misfits
    includes:

    o Known online as "Hempster," William Marquis, 51, lives on Gilroy
    Drive in the Scarborough section of Toronto, Ontario. Pranknet's
    second-in-command, Marquis is a felon whose rap sheep includes
    convictions for drunk driving (2004) and marijuana production (2005).
    The latter case resulted in Marquis receiving a two-year "conditional
    sentence," which roughly equates to probation.

    Marquis was also busted in 1992 for his role in a $4 million
    hydroponic pot growing operation. When he appeared in an Oshawa
    courtroom, "a red-faced Marquis wept" during a bail hearing,
    according to the Toronto Star. Charges in that case were later
    dropped after Marquis gave prosecutors a statement about his role in
    the grow operation, a police commander recalled. Marquis's
    codefendant, who headed the ring, later pleaded guilty. In an
    interview last week, Marquis declined to discuss the 1992 case,
    except to say that the $4 million figure quoted by law enforcement
    was "grossly exaggerated."

    Marquis is widely viewed as Pranknet's deputy and can regularly be
    seen enforcing chat room rules and banishing, or "bouncing"
    violators. Pranknet's "room mother," Marquis has told online
    acquaintances that he has provided Malik with rent money, and last
    year he apprised a small circle of Pranknet intimates about the fire
    at Malik's home (in an apparent attempt to solicit donations to the
    Pranknet chief).

    Earlier this year Marquis offered a $500 bounty to anyone in the chat
    room who could succeed in getting someone to drive a car through the
    lobby window of a hotel. Remarkably, Malik did just that on May 27 at
    a Hampton Inn in York, Nebraska. Posing as a representative from a
    fire alarm company, Malik tricked a front desk worker into pulling
    the hotel alarm, which he claimed was malfunctioning and needed to be
    "reset." After the alarm sounded, he told the woman that the only way
    to stop the screeching was to break lobby windows, which supposedly
    contained sensors of some sort. As York Police Department Chief
    Donald Klug recalled, "A trucker was standing there and he offered to
    help and drove his truck through the front door."

    Malik was so pleased with the destruction that he raced to Pranknet's
    Twitter page to contemporaneously report, "I just pulled off the most
    epic prank. I had a hotel guest back his truck into the hotel window
    (in the lobby) and break the window." That tweet/admission of guilt
    was recently deleted from the group's Twitter feed.

    Marquis's most recent pranks involved follow-up calls placed in an
    effort to get victims to recount the damage caused by previous
    Pranknet hoaxes. He posed as an insurance adjuster in a call to a
    Waffle House where employees had been persuaded to set off the
    restaurant's fire suppression system. Following a notorious February
    26 prank at a KFC in Manchester, New Hampshire, Marquis called the
    restaurant and said he was an "investigator" in a bid to get victims
    to recount how they were humiliated.

    The KFC prank, an excerpt of which can be listened to in the column
    at right, was handled by Malik and another Pranknet regular nicknamed
    "Slayer." That call was recently removed from Pranknet's YouTube
    page, which itself was suspended last week by the online video giant.
    Here's how Malik described the February call when he posted it to
    YouTube: "Epic KFC Prank Call (greatest ever)...dex successfully
    convinces the 3 female employees to undress fully nude OUTSIDE and
    URINATE ON EACH OTHER!!! AND MORE!"


    Sometimes, when Malik opts not to abuse a young female victim who has
    ended up on the phone with him (they are usually answering fake
    Craigslist ads offering something of value for free, like a laptop or
    concert tickets), he tries to impress her by noting, "We've made the
    news many times. Not for anything good." Operating without a wingman,
    Malik then tries to close the deal by suggesting the woman Google the
    phrase "KFC employees naked" so that she can get a fuller
    understanding of his prowess. This is apparently how Malik tries to
    court a gal.

    During an interview, Marquis, who told TSG that his "conscience is
    clear," lied about his criminal record and the extent of his
    involvement with Pranknet. Asked about his relationship with Malik,
    Marquis said, "There is no relationship," adding that he had no
    contact with the Pranknet founder. He also denied giving Malik money
    or paying for Pranknet expenses like Skype accounts.

    However, Marquis's claim that he is not in contact with Malik is
    belied by TSG's own computer server logs. Records indicate that Malik
    immediately shared with Marquis the addresses of stories about
    Pranknet that appeared on TSG. The stories, which each carried a
    distinctive url that was created solely for Malik's viewing, were
    first provided to the Pranknet founder in e-mails sent to his Gmail
    account (axis.r9@gmail.com). On three occasions over the last six
    weeks, within minutes of Malik clicking a link (which recorded his IP
    address in Windsor), Marquis also looked at the story, resulting in
    his Scarborough IP being memorialized on TSG's servers.

    When confronted with this strange coincidence, Marquis could offer
    little beyond, "Hmmmm."

    o Shawn Powell, known as "Slipknotpsycho," is a 24-year-old Texan on
    that state's sex offender registry. In May 2002, he was sentenced to
    13 months in custody following his conviction on a felony charge of
    indecency with a minor (he admitted taking naked photos of an
    eight-year-old female relative). The unemployed Powell, whose rap
    sheet also includes a 2003 pot possession conviction, is a relative
    Pranknet newcomer and, as a result, apparently only the subject of
    one police investigation.

    On July 5, TSG has learned, Powell and a Pranknet veteran nicknamed
    "Prankster" targeted a pair of fast food restaurants. Of all the
    cities he could have chosen, Powell decided to cut his teeth in
    Baytown, Texas, where he happens to reside. While "Prankster" took
    the lead, posing as "Jamie Taylor," a representative of the Baytown
    Fire Department, Powell "hosted" the calls via his Skype account.

    "Prankster" succeeded in convincing an Arby's worker to activate the
    kitchen's fire suppression system, which resulted in foam being
    discharged from overhead extinguishers. Powell, using the alias
    "Corey Taylor" (the name of the lead singer in the metal band
    Slipknot), joined the call in an unsuccessful attempt to get the
    worker to break windows due to the purported toxic nature of the
    foam. According to a Baytown Police Department report, an Arby's
    manager estimated that the prank caused $4600 in damages and lost
    sales, and said that the restaurant would be shut until the local
    health department inspected the business and cleared it to reopen. A
    similar call by Powell and "Prankster" to a Baytown Jack in the Box
    did not fool employees there.

    As is Pranknet custom, "Prankster" placed a July 6 follow-up call to
    try and gauge the damage he and Powell caused the previous day.
    Referring to the Arby's fire system by its correct trade
    name--Axiom--he told a manager that if she set it off again, "it
    would clean all the foam off the floor."

    Powell's brief Pranknet career also includes a barrage of racist and
    threatening calls. And one afternoon last month, he even arranged for
    a prank call to be made to his own mother, which was broadcast live.
    With a Pranknet member acting as if he were a cop, Powell's mother
    was made to believe that her name and phone number were found in the
    pocket of a murder victim. The woman, who said she thought the dead
    man could be a relative, was directed to come to the police station
    for further information.

    o Nothing speaks more to the execrable nature of Malik's rank and
    file than the fact that the sex offender who took naked photos of a
    little girl is not the most loathsome guy in the chat room.

    A leading contender for that honor is "Prankster" himself. Over the
    past year, he has perpetrated dozens of hoaxes across the country,
    making him one of Pranknet's most prolific vandals. While "Prankster"
    has left destroyed hotel rooms, damaged restaurants, and scores of
    victims in his wake, his most reprehensible act occurred on July 20.

    The prank began that morning with a call to the front desk of a
    Homewood Suites hotel in Lexington, Kentucky. "Prankster" asked to be
    connected to Room 206, and when a male guest answered the phone, he
    claimed to be calling from the front desk with alarming news. The
    prior guest in Room 206, he claimed, had tested positive for
    hepatitis C and the hotel was concerned that the infectious disease
    could have been transmitted to the man due to an insufficient
    cleaning of the room by housekeeping staff.

    The guest was informed that the hotel had a doctor on premises and,
    just to be safe, he was asked to provide a urine sample to be tested.
    While the request was preposterous on its face, the man nonetheless
    complied. After urinating in a bathroom drinking glass, he was
    directed to drop the sample off at the front desk for testing. While
    this action alone might have earned the coveted Pranknet "epic" tag,
    the hoax was not over.

    Switching characters, "Prankster" then called the front desk and
    claimed to be a representative with Martinelli's, a cider company. He
    told a female Homewood Suites employee that a representative of his
    firm was coming downstairs with a sample of a new apple cider and
    asked whether she would sample it and give her opinion of the
    product. "It has like a fizzy sensation," he advised the woman. "It's
    supposed to tingle as it goes down."

    [A recording of the conclusion of the July 20 prank can be listened
    to in the column at right.]

    Then, like clockwork, the male guest arrived at the hotel's front
    desk as the female employee was on the phone with "Prankster." "Here
    he comes," the woman announced as the man approached her desk. "Okay,
    take the cider and send him back up to his room," "Prankster"
    advised. Amazingly, the male guest turned over the urine sample
    without any discussion with the hotel clerk.

    Laughing, the woman asked, "You're sure there's no poison in this?"
    "Prankster" responded, "I'm sure ma'am." After the woman sipped from
    the glass, "Prankster" asked how it tasted. "Horrible," she replied.
    "That does not taste like cider...I'm not gonna take another sip,
    that's horrible." She added, "I can't take any more of that."

    It was now time for the repulsive reveal.

    "Well, I need to inform you of something, ma'am," said "Prankster."
    "I want you to understand that you just drank that man's urine." This
    pronouncement was accompanied with a burst of laughter from another
    Pranknet member apparently sitting in on the Skype call. The second
    man called the hotel employee a "dumb bitch" for drinking the guest's
    bacteria-filled waste. The disgusting episode, of course, received
    plaudits from the Pranknet chat room faithful, one of whom exclaimed,
    "That bitch drank piss!" Another regular, who uses the nickname
    "Timmy two-bags," typed this trenchant observation: "i bet she was
    gagging for a few hours after that."

    Homewood Suites employees, who would not speak to TSG, immediately
    reported the incident to the Lexington Division of Police. A
    spokesperson, Detective Shannon Garner, confirmed that the matter is
    being investigated as wanton endangerment, a first-degree felony.
    Garner said a police report gave this brief synopsis of the crime:

    "Victim was intentionally exposed to an unknown substance by an
    unknown person without her knowledge."

    Hours after the incident, Pranknet's eminence grise decided to weigh
    in. Marquis, a 51-year-old with nothing better to do than hang out
    with degenerates half his age, sought to downplay the "Prankster"
    achievement. "Prankster's fucking head is gonna get all swollen. He
    just got lucky with the right person, for fuck's sake," harrumphed
    "Hempster."

    While conning a victim into drinking someone else's urine is
    acceptable conduct, Marquis draws the line at pranks involving
    animals. Because he is a committed cat person, you see. It would be
    downright diabolical to even refer to a pet in a Pranknet hoax.
    During an off-topic discussion last week, Marquis referred to news
    that day of the discovery of the remains of an eight-year-old girl
    who had gone missing months earlier. The creepy Pranknet leader, who
    enjoys monitoring police scanners, noted that while the child's
    murder was a "shame," he would "be more pissed off if it was an
    animal. If it was somebody's pet that they kidnapped, beat, and
    tortured and killed. Isn't that weird?"

    Last Friday, TSG obtained the Skype number (281-761-6233) used by
    "Prankster" and gave it a call. Though a reporter was dialing from a
    blocked number, "Prankster" picked up anyway, which he said he rarely
    does.

    Asked whether he was concerned about the police probe of the
    felonious urine prank (not to mention other investigations into his
    activities), "Prankster" said, "Not necessarily." He had little
    concern about being located or identified by police, journalists, or
    victims: "It's too difficult to find me. I'm a ghost on the
    Internet...I do pretty much everything I can to keep anything out of
    my computer that would lead it back to my actual computer. I'm not a
    stupid individual, like I said." An audio excerpt of TSG's interview
    with "Prankster" can be found in the column at right.

    [As he was speaking, "Prankster" was desperately trying to get on the
    Pranknet mic so that he could broadcast something epic: His TSG
    interview. Alas, he never got the mic, nor did "Prankster" fathom
    that his interviewer was monitoring the chat room as he tried to set
    up a live sandbagging.]

    When pushed to answer more questions, "Prankster" brayed that he no
    longer wanted to be bothered by a reporter.

    "You, of all people, is telling someone to leave them alone? Don't
    you exist to do the exact opposite?" he was asked.

    "Yeah, but that's my job," he replied. Did he actually considered
    tormenting strangers on the telephone his occupation? "Prankster"
    answered, "In a way, yes. But in a way, no. It's a hobby, hobby slash
    job slash, you know, something of that nature." During the 10-minute
    conversation, "Prankster" declared that he was "not a snitch and I'm
    not a phony," adding, "If you do happen to come across my address, my
    phone number, my real name, then you can go ahead and you can do
    that."

    So, with the young criminal's permission, TSG spent the next 24 hours
    trying to identify him. When we called him back early Saturday
    evening--this time on his home number--his mother answered the line.
    When "Prankster" came to the phone, he was no longer willing to chat
    about his "hobby slash job" or his status as Internet apparition.
    Instead, he quickly hung up when a reporter identified himself. He
    would do this again when we called back.

    "Prankster" is Tyler Markle, who turns 19 later this month.

    He lives with his mother and stepfather in a mobile home on a rural
    road in Diboll, Texas (pop. 5407), about 115 miles north of Houston.
    He is a 2008 graduate of Diboll High School and, like Pranknet
    founder Malik, is an avid player of first-person shooter games (he is
    known in that world as "RancidOneShot 2" and "N3v3rQu1t").

    On a recently deleted MySpace page, Markle (whose full name is James
    Tyler Markle) listed his body type as "6' 6" / Athletic," though that
    is an exaggeration, according to one source. He plays on a
    recreational softball team, dresses like a goth, and loves the
    "Twilight" series of books (his Twitter account, "3DW4RD_B3LL4," is
    an alphanumeric tribute to the vampire saga's main characters).

    Markle also happens to be a regular at the area's only gay bar,
    though he is not old enough to drink and lists his orientation as
    "Straight" on his former MySpace page. Fellow patrons would likely be
    interested to learn of his frequent homophobic rants while on the
    Pranknet mic, not to mention his repeated threats to violate men and
    women with a chair leg.

    As the sun set Saturday evening, Markle retreated to his bedroom
    while his mom screened calls from New York City.

    o Known as "Veruca," LeeAnn Jordan is a 28-year-old Lewiston, Maine
    woman who has allowed her PayPal account to be used by Malik to
    receive assorted money transfers, including payments for CDs and MP3s
    containing hundreds of his pranks. Malik, records show, also had
    access last year to a server housing two web sites connected to
    Jordan, including one for her father's electrical contracting
    business.

    While Jordan does not place prank calls--and rarely shows up in the
    Pranknet chat room--her name surfaced in the criminal investigation
    of the hoax at the Manchester KFC. In February, Malik and his allies
    were carrying out their pranks in a room on the popular Paltalk chat
    service. When investigators discovered that Jordan had paid for the
    Paltalk account used by one of the KFC suspects, they conducted an
    interview with her.

    Jordan, a mother of small children, told a detective that she "pretty
    much lives her life through the computer" and acknowledged purchasing
    the Paltalk account in question, which carried the nickname
    "DonkeyPuncher" (one of several accounts used by Malik). Asked about
    the identity of "DonkeyPuncher," Jordan said she "doesn't know him,"
    and claimed that it was "not uncommon for her to buy people temporary
    memberships to Paltalk," according to a Manchester Police Department
    report.

    The Manchester probe stalled when Detective Peter Marr traced the
    "DonkeyPuncher" IP address to an Internet service provider in Canada.
    With the case now moving outside the country, Marr contacted federal
    prosecutors for guidance. However, as Marr wrote in a May 6 report,
    "It was obvious to me that the US Attorney's didn't have much
    interest in the case when I told them that the IP address of the
    suspect" was in Canada. In shutting the case, Marr noted, "At this
    time I have exhausted all leads and am closing the case due to not
    having the jurisdiction to continue further."

    In a brief interview, Jordan denied ever speaking with Manchester
    police, and refused to answer questions about Malik, whom she claimed
    lived 3500 miles away from her.

  3. #3
    SPOILERS INSIDE ©™ Cth's Avatar
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    Re: The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

    (PAGE 3 of 3)

    It is certainly not a coincidence that all the damaging Pranknet
    calls have been directed at American businesses and residents. Malik
    has recently provided some Pranknet denizens with lengthy target
    lists including the locations and phone numbers of hundreds of Best
    Western and Hilton Garden Inn hotels, all of which are in the U.S.
    (excerpts from those compilations, found on the Pranknet.org web
    site, can be seen here). Pranknet's boss and underboss are Canadian
    citizens, and apparently of the opinion that they are beyond the
    reach of U.S. law enforcement officials.

    After Malik & Co. broadcast the KFC prank over Paltalk earlier this
    year, the chat company banned the group from its service. But
    Pranknet quickly regrouped and established a similar room via
    Beyluxe, a rival chat service. Beyluxe, which is headquartered
    overseas, is either unaware or unconcerned about the rampant
    criminality taking place on Pranknet.

    Malik's banishment from Paltalk was in the works prior to the KFC
    hoax. He had repeatedly launched illegal denial of service (DoS)
    attacks on Paltalk servers housing competing chat rooms. The
    sophisticated assaults increased after Malik was banned from Paltalk,
    according to Perry Scherer, the company's chief technology officer.
    "He's a reprehensible, horrible creature with no morals," said
    Scherer, who added that his company spent significant sums to counter
    Malik's attacks and protect against future incursions. In a TSG
    interview, Jeri Batsford, a Tennessee woman who was, until recently,
    a Pranknet regular, acknowledged her involvement in the Paltalk
    attacks. She admitted paying for Malik's use of a Voxel server from
    which he launched the DoS blitz.

    Batsford, who was a gleeful participant in a number of acts of hotel
    vandalism, left the group after a falling out with Malik and others.
    When it was reported that she had contacted law enforcement about
    Pranknet activities, Batsford became the chat room's biggest target
    (she defected around the time a fire alarm/sprinkler prank caused
    $50,000 in damage at a Holiday Inn Express in Conway, Arkansas). As a
    result, she has endured weeks of unending harassment at her home and
    the gourmet food market where she works. Last week, a chat room
    regular--an adult male nicknamed "Moe Lester"--urged fellow Pranknet
    habitues to call Tennessee's Child Protective Services division and
    lodge fabricated claims about Batsford beating her teenage son. "Moe
    Lester" is a Nantucket resident whose business would likely suffer if
    his real name was attached to his racist Pranknet musings (not to
    mention his advocacy of filing false child abuse reports).

    For his part, Malik last Friday suggested taking the long view when
    it came to "trying to fuck with" Batsford. "She isn't going to answer
    the phone. She isn't goign to let you get to her," he wrote. Instead,
    the Pranknet boss suggested that they would "have to get her later on
    down the road, when she least expects it." In some quarters, that
    might be construed as a threat against the 40-year-old Batsford.
    In the wake of Batsford's approach to law enforcement, Pranknet lost
    one of its most promising vandals. Known as "Rollin in the A," the
    20-year-old Atlanta-area man said that he "freaked out" when a TSG
    reporter contacted him at his home. He responded by immediately
    deleting the Beyluxe chat program from his computer. "I regret that I
    got involved with it," he said. "I regret the damages. It was a
    stupid, bad decision."

    He said that he first listened to some Pranknet calls on YouTube and
    recalled thinking, "Damn, I can't believe this shit." Soon, he was
    making prank calls to hotel guests, one of which resulted in a call
    referred to as "Demolition Man" in Pranknet circles (that tape can be
    listened to in the column at right). In an April 30 call to
    Prejean's, a Lafayette, Louisiana restaurant, "Rollin" posed as a
    Health Department official and warned the eatery that it had received
    a shipment of pork tainted with a strain of swine flu. He directed
    the eatery to close immediately, and told a manager to inform 75
    diners of the possibility that they had consumed contaminated food.

    "Rollin" told TSG that Malik picked Prejean's as a target because the
    Cajun restaurant's web site offered a live video stream of its dining
    room. So Pranknet visitors were able to watch the business clear out
    in real time. A video of the Prejean's prank can be viewed in the
    column at right.

    Asked about his opinion of Malik, who he knew only as "Dex," "Rollin"
    said that the Pranknet founder was "very serious about wanting to
    build the room up. That's the reason he did the sprinkler calls, to
    get new listeners." He added that Malik "feels very comfortable with
    himself" and wants Pranknet hoaxes "to be epic."

    * * *

    In recent weeks, Malik has added a new criminal wrinkle to the
    Pranknet repertoire. On at least six occasions, he has successfully
    hijacked the phone number of a U.S. business and had it forwarded to
    one of the Skype numbers he controlled.

    In each instance, an unknown male caller had contacted a phone
    company and pretended to be a representative of the targeted
    business. The caller claimed that there was no dial tone on the
    firm's phone, and requested that all calls be immediately forwarded
    to a number that he provided. When that occurred, Malik could barely
    contain his excitement: "OMG EPIC. WE NOW OWN A FUCKING KIDS
    WONDELAND. BWHAHAHAHAHA.. THEY WON'T BE ABLE TO TURN IT OFF EITHER,
    NOT EASILY." On other occasions, he announced that he had "taken over
    a ZOO," and "I AM NOW A HAIR CUTTING SALON."

    On July 13, while calls to a Best Western in Jacksonville, Florida
    were being rerouted to him, Malik spoke with an elderly woman who was
    trying to confirm that a male acquaintance had arrived safely at the
    hotel. After first telling the woman that the man had been in an
    accident, he then claimed that the guest was in his room with another
    man and did not want to be disturbed. While the old woman's dismay
    was evident, one Pranknet commenter thought it was comedy gold: "This
    bitch is gonna have a heart attack." Malik controlled the 60-room
    hotel's phone for almost 13 hours, according to a Best Western
    manager.

    The Olympic Game Farm in Port Angeles, Washington had its phone
    hijacked by Malik on July 7. When callers dialed to ask questions
    about what time the business closed, Malik made crude sexual remarks
    to them. The phone at the Fun 4 All amusement park in Chula Vista,
    California was similarly compromised on July 11, with calls being
    forwarded to a Skype number with a 202 area code. "We are totally
    ransacking, taking over all these businesses," a pleased Malik
    commented at one point.

    For about four hours on July 15, Malik was in control of the incoming
    phone calls to a Hilton Garden Inn in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When travelers
    who had arrived at the airport called about the availability of the
    hotel shuttle, Malik told them that it was not operating and that
    they would be reimbursed for taking a cab to the hotel. Other callers
    were told that there had been a swine flu outbreak at the hotel or
    that there was a hostage situation underway.

    After consulting with AT&T, hotel manager Terri Kullerd learned that
    the Hilton's calls had been illegally forwarded to (541) 207-1337,
    another Skype number. When TSG called the number, a man answered and
    quickly hung up when a reporter identified himself. Almost
    immediately in the Pranknet chat room, a regular nicknamed
    "paranormal" was wondering how a TSG reporter had obtained his Skype
    number.

    Kullerd said she spoke to Tulsa cops and the local FBI office right
    after last month's phone hijacking.

    On numerous occasions, Malik has also succeeded in remotely taking
    control of a hotel's computer by posing as an IT supervisor at
    corporate headquarters. By directing front desk employees to the web
    site for TeamViewer, a free program that allows a user to "take
    control over a computer anywhere on the Internet," he has walked them
    through a series of steps that end with him in control of, or
    mirroring, the hotel computer.

    As companies become more aware of Pranknet's m.o. (a Florida
    sheriff's alert can be seen here, while an internal Choice Hotels
    e-mail is here), Malik and his followers have recently been left to
    spend most of their time fielding calls prompted by fraudulent
    Craigslist ads offering free goods. Callers are routinely subjected
    to a torrent of racial slurs and sexual comments. One evening, when a
    12-year-old girl called about a purported free trampoline, Malik
    offered the child some advice: Do not get pregnant by a black man, he
    said. "They have AIDS."

    One Pranknet mainstay, who would likely love to see his nickname in
    print, fashions himself as doing a daily prank "show," like a radio
    DJ. The wheezing adult male, who sounds like he has a working
    familiarity with various stimulants, specializes in calling up female
    Craigslist advertisers offering baby clothes, toys, or Winnie the
    Pooh swings. After sweetly extracting the home address where he can
    come and purchase the items, the man then announces that he's headed
    over to rape the woman and kill her children.

    Early Saturday evening, the Pranknet crew came up with a new
    variation on the fake classified stunt. An ad was placed on
    Craigslist's Denver site offering a free 32-inch flat-screen TV.
    Those interested were directed to immediately call 541-207-1337
    (which happened to be the same Skype number used in the July 15
    hijacking of the Tulsa Hilton's phones).

    As a steady stream of callers reached Malik, he directed them to a
    home on Warren Drive, where they could pick up the TV. At the same
    time, Pranknet members were calling local plumbers and having them
    dispatched to the same address for a service call. The address was
    selected because it was directly across the street from the home of
    Timothy Tomlin, a 26-year-old Pranket member known as "Timmy
    two-bags." To the delight of chat room participants, Tomlin, who
    lives at 6981 Warren Drive, pointed a web cam at the neighbor's house
    and provided a live feed of the unfolding chaos.

    For those unable to watch the cam, Tomlin provided a running
    commentary on the number of cars massing in front of his neighbor's
    home, along with descriptions of prospective TV recipients: "I see
    the lady....shes old and limping." Tomlin's wife, from whom he is
    separated, said Sunday that she passed two TSG messages onto him, but
    the Denver man never called back a reporter.

    Compared to Pranknet's previous body of work--flooded businesses,
    destroyed hotel rooms, damaged restaurants with naked employees on
    the sidewalk, and broken glass everywhere--this was pretty tame
    stuff. Still, the image of grown man hiding in the dark tormenting a
    neighbor for the enjoyment of other guys sitting alone in front of
    their computers on a Saturday night crisply illustrates the totality
    of the Pranknet experience.

    * * *

    Tariq Malik once told a friend that his first computer was a 486 DX
    with multimedia capability. He had lobbied his parents hard to shell
    out for the used model, which he apparently used to launch Pranknet
    about a decade ago.

    At the time, he was a skinny high school student whose face was
    dominated by a pair of unruly eyebrows. He viewed his new project as
    an "online radio station." Known as "Skream9" and "New Age Pimp,"
    Malik wanted to broadcast "anything that makes the public
    laugh...It's all about the audience." His small group of listeners
    included fellow teens with online nicknames like "AssJesus,"
    "rage16," and Evil-Rome0." To facilitate ideas, one day he added a
    "Prank someone form" to his page. "CLICK HERE AND FILL IN INFO ABOUT
    THE VICTIM," he helpfully instructed visitors. The teenager
    desperately wanted to build an online community which he would head.
    "He likes being the leader," recalled a friend from that period.

    Over the years, Pranknet would hit fallow patches, usually when Malik
    had more important things to do. He started an online business, NRG
    Servers, that rented server space to the hardcore gaming crowd.
    Malik's business was successful enough, he told a friend, that he was
    able to get a Dodge and move out of his mother's Windsor apartment.
    He didn't travel far, though. Malik remained in the worn Riverside
    community across from Detroit's Renaissance Center and over which a
    yeasty smell lingers thanks to a nearby Hiram Walker plant.

    But when Malik's game server business failed, he reluctantly had to
    move back in with his mother. He told an online friend that he first
    made sure there was an unprotected Wi-Fi network that he could access
    from his parent's flat (though he really had no other place to go).
    In short order--with no job and time on his hands--Malik once again
    set out to grow that online audience he has always chased. His target
    demographic was bored young men (and a few stray women) who enjoyed
    the humiliation racket.

    As his pranks have escalated into an assortment of criminal behavior,
    a listener could be forgiven for concluding that all the destruction
    and breaking glass was Malik's way of keeping himself interested in
    the endeavor. At times on the mic he sounds bored and distracted,
    usually while insulting or threatening an umpteenth Craigslist caller
    (he recently demanded that one man begin taking Seroquel, an
    antidepressant with which he seemed familiar).

    Last month, after NBC's "Today" show aired a report about a prank at
    an Orlando hotel--which did not mention Pranknet's involvement--Malik
    whined on the mic that, "Apparently I'm to blame for everything. It's
    really annoying." And in a July 13 Twitter post he complained about
    how "the news distorts and lies about shit."

    Having succumbed to baser urges, Malik, sequestered in his 10' x 12'
    Canadian bedroom, is now stuck dealing with the messy consequences.

  4. #4
    GODFATHER Ben's Avatar
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    Re: The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

    Just give me the gist of it.

  5. #5
    Made cPol's Avatar
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    Re: The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

    Quote Originally Posted by Ben View Post
    Just give me the gist of it.
    A group of internet tough guys who make prank phone calls ranging from annoying to destructive to illegal and believe themselves to be 100% anonymous turn out to be various grades of loser nobodys who show their true colors once its revealed that they're not as anonymous as they think they are.


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  6. #6
    Hard Boiled
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    Re: The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

    These are the type of people that make want punch random people just on the chance it might be some anonymous douche-bag. While wrong, the random property damage doesn't make me as furious as the feelings of insecurity, humiliation, and general distrust that it creates in the victims.

    While I find it interesting that people are so willing to listen to some unidentified "authority" figure.... Fuck these prankster fucks.

  7. #7
    GODFATHER Buk Was Right's Avatar
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    Re: The Smoking Gun Busts PrankNet -- Prank Calls Gone Feloniously Wrong

    Read this yesterday. It was interesting, but I wish it would've ended with more than a couple of these guys either in cuffs or with a foot up their ass instead of just exposed and embarrassed.
    Quote Originally Posted by RichJohnston View Post
    I'm not a journalist.
    About Me / BART Don't Lie on Tumblr / BART Don't Lie on Facebook / A Guy With Some Marvel Cards / Twitter / Flickr

    "Nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet." --Aaron Sorkin

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