Owners of coveted Instagram and Twitter handles are getting harassed by anonymous assailants who are bombarding them with threatening text messages and even calling in SWAT raids on their houses, according to a report.
Rare Instagram and Twitter handles, which can sell for thousands of dollars, are coveted by brands and influencers.
People looking to control or flip the usernames can harass their current owners, including by tracking down their addresses so they can threaten the owners and their families, Insider reported on Sunday.
One victim, a tech designer named Josh Williams who controlled the “@jw” Instagram handle, reportedly had his house surrounded by dozens of armed police officers in a tactic known as “swatting” after an anonymous 911 caller claimed Williams had murdered his wife and was threatening to set his children on fire.
An anonymous message later reportedly warned Williams’ wife: “if you don’t convince your husband to give me his username, @jw I am going to continue to harass you, your husband, and your kids.”
Another victim, Netflix executive Chris Eberle, also reportedly had a SWAT team called to his previous address. Eberle also had dozens of cash-on-delivery orders from takeout restaurants delivered to his home throughout all hours of the day.
The harassers wanted Eberle to hand over the Instagram handle “@ginger.”
Williams, Eberle and several other owners of rare Instagram accounts who had been subject to harassment formed a support group called the “Handle Heroes,” according to the report.
The group then contacted the FBI, which looked into the harassment and reportedly named a teenager in Tennessee, Shane Sonderman, as a suspect.
While Sonderman was never charged with harassing Eberle or Williams, he was sentenced to five years in jail in 2021 after he called a SWAT team on a 60-year-old grandfather who owned the “@Tennessee” Twitter handle.
The victim, Mark Herring, reportedly collapsed and died from a heart attack while the SWAT team descended on his house.
Prosecutors said that Sonderman and other unnamed co-conspirators “conspired with others throughout the United States and other countries to extort the holders of unique Instagram and Twitter handles.” They then allegedly flipped the handles for cash.
Some victims, including Eberle, have reportedly sold or changed their usernames in an effort to stop the harassment.