Shootings and firebombs: Violence-for-hire a new threat online


In this photo illustration, a man types on an illuminated computer keyboard typically favored by computer coders. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — Cybercriminals who were once known for online hacking scams have pivoted to increasingly violent activities, in some cases hiring strangers on the internet to carry out shootings and firebombings against people’s homes.

In January, an attacker fired eight shots into the living room of a home in rural Pennsylvania. Federal law enforcement officials believe the alleged shooter was paid to commit the crime by someone online.

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“It was horrible, they could’ve killed somebody,” one of the victims told NewsNation.

Family members, who were home at the time of the attack but uninjured, said they still fear for their safety today.

In August, authorities arrested 21-year-old Patrick McGovern-Allen in connection with the incident.

Prosecutors say McGovern-Allen threw Molotov cocktails at a different home just two weeks prior to the shooting.

In both attacks, McGovern-Allen was allegedly paid to carry out the violence, then shout a name while a second individual recorded the crime to prove the job was done.

Sources tell NewsNation the person who allegedly hired McGovern-Allen is still at large.

A federal arrest warrant says the 21-year-old bragged about the shooting and firebombing on the social media app Discord.

In a chat session, using the alias “Tongue0001,” prosecutors say McGovern-Allen told other Discord users that he was the person who shot the house and that he was willing to commit firebombings using Molotov cocktails.

“If you need anything done for $ lmk/I did a shooting/Molotov/ but can also do things for ur entertainment,” the message in the report read.

Discord flagged the information and turned it over to the FBI, calling it “high harm cybercrime activity.”

Experts say most of these transactions are done on the dark web with cryptocurrency, which makes it hard for local police to investigate.

“If you’re going to use these different types of routers, different communication tools, the chances of bringing these bad guys to justice is really difficult,” said Scott Augenbaum, a former FBI agent who has been investigating cybercrimes for 30 years.

McGovern-Allen is now being held at a federal detention center in Philadelphia.

“If you’re targeted, it’s pretty hard to hide,” said Dan Patterson, the editorial director at Cybersixgill, a cyberintelligence company that monitors threats online.

Using apps such as Discord and Telegram, Patterson showed NewsNation how easy it is to find someone who is ready to attack on demand.

A search for someone willing to throw bricks into homes delivered near-instantaneous results.

“We’re not talking hours, we’re talking minutes — we’re talking seconds,” said Patterson.

Payment amounts vary but in some cases can go as high as $3,000 to $5,000.

“It’s not just pocket change,” said Patterson. “But as the activities scale up and this becomes more common, the price goes down.”

Augenbaum said McGovern-Allen’s arrest will serve as an important reminder to other cybercriminals who may be willing to carry out violence for money.

“Look, law enforcement can find you, law enforcement will prosecute you,” said Augenbaum.  

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