By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) — At least two people may have committed suicide following the hacking of the Ashley Madison cheating website that exposed the information of clients, Toronto police said on Monday.
Avid Life Media Inc, the parent company of the website, is offering a C$500,000 ($379,132) reward to catch the hackers, police said.
In addition to the exposure of the Ashley Madison accounts of as many as 37 million users, the attack on the infidelity website has sparked extortion attempts and at least two unconfirmed suicides, Toronto Police Acting Staff Superintendent Bryce Evans told a news conference.
The data dump contained email addresses of U.S. government officials, UK civil servants, and workers at European and North American corporations, taking already deep-seated fears about Internet security and data protection to a new level.
Police declined to provide any more details on the apparent suicides, saying they received unconfirmed reports on Monday morning.
“The social impact behind this (hacking) — we’re talking about families. We’re talking about their children, we’re talking about their wives, we’re talking about their male partners,” Bryce told reporters.
“It’s going to have impacts on their lives. We’re now going to have hate crimes that are a result of this. There are so many things that are happening. The reality is… this is not the fun and games that has been portrayed.”
The investigation into the hacking has broadened to include international law enforcement, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security joining last week. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Canadian federal and provincial police are also assisting.
He also said the hacking has spawned websites that fraudulently claim to be able to protect Ashley Madison clients’ data for a fee.
People are also attempting to extort Ashley Madison clients by threatening to send evidence of their membership directly to friends, family or colleagues, Evans said.
In a sign of Ashley Madison’s deepening woes following the breach, lawyers last week launched a class-action lawsuit seeking some $760 million in damages on behalf of Canadians whose information was leaked.
Since the hack last month, Avid Life has indefinitely postponed the adultery site’s IPO plans.
(Reporting by Alastair Sharp and Andrea Hopkins; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)
Photo: The homepage of the Ashley Madison website is displayed on an iPad, in this photo illustration taken in Ottawa, Canada July 21, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie