Try to hire a hacker on CraigsList to wipe out your court fines? Get sent to prison

David bisson
David Bisson

Zachary LandisA judge in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has sentenced a man to prison for having attempted to solicit the assistance of a hacker on Craigslist with the intent to wipe his legal fines from a court’s computer system.

Back in March of this year, Zachary J. Landis, 27, created a Craigslist account using his own email address and posted an ad seeking the services of a computer hacker.

As reported by Softpedia, Landis’ intention was to enlist the help of a hacker to wipe several legal fines and other charges he had incurred from a court’s computer system.

The ad eventually did attract some attention, but not the kind for which Landis had been hoping. Detective Matthew Dotts of Derry Township, which is located in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, came across the ad and initiated an undercover conversation with Landis to see if his intentions were real. When Dotts became convinced that they were, he forwarded the ad to the Lancaster County Police Department.

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Detective Gregory Wahl of the Lancaster County Computer Forensics Unit continued the covert conversations with Landis. Eventually, Landis grew to trust his correspondent and sent Wahl three docket sheets from cases associated with previous offences he had committed.

Presumably, Landis hoped that the “hacker” could first remove those three fines as a demonstration of his computer expertise.

But Detective Wahl was on to Landis. Exploiting the trust that his correspondent had misplaced in him, Wahl asked Landis to send him a screenshot of his computer screen. Landis complied. Fortunate for the police, the screenshot indicated that Landis was signed into his Gmail account, which the authorities then used along with the three dockets and Landis’ local ISP to arrest him.

In April, Landis was arrested for criminal solicitation to commit unlawful use of a computer, computer theft, computer trespass, and other offenses. He later admitted to his crimes and has since received two to four years in prison as punishment.

Landis is by no means the first individual who has sought to use a hacker’s assistance to tip the legal scales in his favor. However, his foolishness makes Landis stand out. After all, he created a Craigslist account using a clearly traceable email address, and he did so all for $16,000 he owed for restitution, fines, and other court costs, as well as more than $9,000 he owed in restitution costs as a result of an assault case back in 2008.

These financial obligations in no way justified such wantonly stupid and illegal behavior.

Above all, by assuming that he could wipe data off a court’s computer and absolve himself of legal fines, Landis underestimated the legal system’s ability to enforce the law. Fortunately, the law prevailed in this instance, and Landis was brought to justice.

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Tripwire's "The State of Security" blog.

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