Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ontario man accused of mass online pranks

The Smoking Gun identified Tariq Malik as the person resposible for Pranknet.The Smoking Gun identified Tariq Malik as the person resposible for Pranknet. (The Smoking Gun)

An investigative U.S. website says an Ontario man is the leader of an online community responsible for a rash of malicious pranks in which some victims are convinced to vandalize hotel property and undress in public.

The Smoking Gun website said in a report that a 25-year-old Windsor man was the brains behind Pranknet, an "online chat room" whose members make prank phone calls that were broadcast live on the internet.

The Smoking Gun вЂ" typically known for posting elusive, sometimes racy, documents concerning celebrities вЂ" identified the man as Tariq Malik.

The Smoking Gun also identified William Marquis, a Toronto man, as a prominent accomplice.

CBC News tried to contact both Malik and Marquis by visiting their homes. In both cases, no one answered the door.

Pranknet linked to 60 incidents

The Smoking Gun says its reporters joined Pranknet and undertook a seven-week investigation following hoaxes that were broadcast live on the internet.

The site traced nearly 60 incidents to the Pranknet group. The managing editor of the Smoking Gun pointed to one prank as being particularly malicious.

"There's one from New Hampshire where you understand the ultimate end goal is to humiliate people вЂ" just to embarrass, humiliate them and to degrade them as much as possible for sheer entertainment," Andrew Goldberg told CBC News.

In that February incident, two female employees at a KFC outlet were told by a caller posing as a head office representative to turn on the store's fire suppression system.

The system rained down chemicals on the employees, which the prank caller said was hazardous. The caller then successfully convinced the employees to head outside and strip naked in the freezing cold in order to minimize contact with the chemicals.

In another February incident, a man in a Pennsylvania hotel is told to smash open a window in his room in order to let in fresh air to combat a purported gas leak. The man, acting on the caller's advice, also smashes a television set for fear it may spark an explosion.

The Pranknet website appears to now be down. Police from several jurisdictions are investigating separate incidents, but there is no word yet if the RCMP or FBI will begin a full-fledged Pranknet investigation.