Amidst growing concerns surrounding online privacy and security, VPN services have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Millions of people use VPNs to stay secure and to prevent outsiders from tracking their online activities. As with regular Internet providers, a subsection of these subscribers may be engaged in shady activities. This can create serious problems.
In the past, we have seen VPN services being taken to court over alleged piracy taking place through their network. These targets also included the American VPN company Torguard, which settled a dispute out of court. However, things would soon take a turn for the worse.
Criminal Prosecution in Greece
Earlier this year, TorGuard‘s owner Ben Van Pelt became the prime target of a criminal investigation in Greece. As it turns out, someone used a stolen credit card through the VPN service, attempting to make online purchases of €126.25, €498.68, €0.67 and €1,400 at Greek companies.
All these transactions failed as the bank recognized that something was amiss. However, the card’s owner filed a complaint nonetheless and the Greek authorities took up the matter. Soon after, a police investigation was launched to find the person responsible for the attempted fraud.
This investigation eventually pointed to a shared IP address that was registered to TorGuard. In most cases the trail would end there as the VPN service has no logs to connect an IP address to a person. For the Greek authorities, the case was just getting started.
The authorities identified Ben Van Pelt, who founded and owns the Florida-based TorGuard VPN service, as the culprit. As such, he is now the prime suspect in a foreign criminal investigation, facing up to five years in prison.
Mr. Van Pelt hired attorney Alexis Anagnostakis to help him in this matter. Speaking with TorrentFreak, the lawyer says that it’s “unbelievable” that his client is being held personally liable for the fraudulent activity.
“The irregularities of the investigation are extremely difficult to justify and have led to an incredible accusation against an upstanding businessman. There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr. Van Pelt was personally involved in the alleged fraud or had any participation or was an accessory,” Anagnostakis notes.
Anagnostakis is convinced that his client hasn’t done anything wrong and hopes that the authorities will soon realize this as well.
“As the Barrister defending Mr. Van Pelt, I believe that Mr. Van Pelt is manifestly innocent of the attributed charges against him and should be fully acquitted by the Court for this reason.”
Downside of Transparency?
The criminal accusations have taken Ben Van Pelt by surprise. Dealing with the uncertainty of a criminal lawsuit in a foreign country is tough but Torguard’s owner plans to fight the case with all means at his disposal.
Van Pelt has always been transparent about the ownership of the VPN company because he wants people to trust the service. Despite the legal trouble, that won’t change.
“This is an unfortunate situation that can affect any company structured with full ownership transparency. It is very frustrating to be falsely accused of something when there is a complete lack of factual evidence and a general misunderstanding of the technology involved,” Van Pelt informs TorrentFreak.
“I have a new appreciation for the protections afforded to businesses and individuals on a global scale, however, TorGuard will continue to operate transparently as trust is the cornerstone of our operations. If my customers do not know exactly who they are doing business with, how can they trust me?”
Whether Van Pelt will be able to prove his innocence will become apparent next year. In February, the Three-Member Court for Misdemeanours in Athens will hear the case. In addition to the Greek lawyer Anagnostakis, TorGuard’s owner is also represented by former US Attorney Vincent Citro.