PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) — A former Silicon Valley tech executive and his family continued to be harassed over a social media account.
From threats, to fake food deliveries, to his son’s elementary school being put on lockdown — it’s been a two-year headache. The bizarre nightmare started in March of 2020 with a strange text.
“I really couldn’t figure out if it was a joke,” said Palo Alto resident Chris Eberle.
The former Netflix executive received this message:
“Hey Christopher. Gonna need @Ginger on Instagram. Harassment to you and family starts now.”
“My heart dropped a bit, this is super weird,” he said. “So I replied with LOL.”
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The suspects wrote back saying “haha ok” — Eberle thought that was the end of it. Until 30 minutes later, he gets a phone call from a local 650 number.
“So I answered and the guy on the other end said, hey I’m outside with your tow truck,” he said. “Sorry? Is this Chris Eberle? And I said yes. And he said, yeah you called for a tow truck? I’m outside your house.”
Eberle walked out of his house but saw no one there. Turns out a tow truck showed up at his former address down the street. He figured it was a prank, but it was just the beginning.
“When I got up in the morning, I had a barrage of missed calls, voicemails, texts from delivery drivers – a Papa John’s guy, a text from the hacker guys saying, did you like the tow trucks?” he said.
Eberle said this continued over the course of several years. The first wave hit in March and April of 2020 where hundreds of fake DoorDash delivery orders were made in his name all across the country.
According to texts, the suspects even researched the names and addresses of his extended family — so his daughter, mother, sister and in-laws became bombarded with non-stop food deliveries sent to their homes. Even to Eberle’s office at Netflix.
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“All of the orders were in my name. So all of these angry people were trying to find Chris Eberle who ordered these pizzas!” he said. “But, I didn’t order them.”
After a barrage of angry callers and threatening texts, the suspects hit even closer to home.
“My son… they were getting me where I lived,” Eberle said.
Eberle got an urgent call and email on March 12, 2020 warning his son’s Palo Alto elementary school was placed on lockdown due to a threat of an active shooter nearby. The incident was a fake prank placed by the suspects using a spoofed number.
“So it looked like these calls were coming from my mobile number even though they weren’t,” said Eberle. “They called 911. They said they had killed their girlfriend, they were barricaded inside the house. And said they would kill anyone who came close to the house.”
The suspects were swatting – which is when someone makes a fake 911 call to get a large police presence to a particular address.
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Chris Eberle: “Every emergency services vehicle in Palo Alto and Stanford had descended on our previous residence.”
Stephanie Sierra: “All of this over an Instagram and Twitter handle?”
Chris Eberle: “That’s right. All of this for a social media handle that I assumed they were just going to take and try to sell. All of this to make a few grand or whatever they would make on the black market.”
Turns out he’s not alone. Eberle and other victims formed a support group called “Handle Heroes” and contacted the FBI to investigate the harassment. A suspect was reportedly arrested in Tennessee last year.
“What can you do? If you’re this person or anyone. You’re sort of helpless,” said Ben Bajarin.
Bajarin is the CEO of Creative Strategies, a company that specializes in social media market research and trend analysis. He explains there’s a growing black market for weird social media deals.
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“The challenge here is, how do they get this much information and this much leverage over someone based on public information to know where you live, to know where your family lives,” said Bajarin. “There’s that much desire to take an account.”
Last year, Eberle gave away his @Ginger Twitter and Instagram handle to a company that provides mental health services. But the suspects still won’t stop, even two years later.
“It’s still happening as recently as a couple of weeks ago, my mom received a pizza order at her house in my name. My in-laws the same thing,” said Eberle. “It doesn’t make any sense. None of it ever made any sense.”
Eberle added this harassment has also happened to several of his former Facebook colleagues. The FBI told the I-Team the investigation into this case is ongoing.
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