Los Angeles jury indicts 33 for online phishing

May 20th, 2008 - 6:32 pm ICT by admin  

Los Angeles, May 20 (Xinhua) A US federal grand jury has indicted nearly three dozen people for their involvement in an international online “phishing” scheme that defrauded thousands of victims and hundreds of financial institutions. A total of 33 people, including both US citizens and foreign nationals, were named in a 65-count Los Angeles indictment which charges them with participating in Internet-based fraud, prosecutors said Monday.

The indictment charges the defendants with crimes including racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. The bank fraud charge alone is punishable by up to 30-year prison terms.

Seuong Wook Lee, a cashier in the scheme, pleaded guilty Thursday in a Los Angeles federal court to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, access device fraud and unauthorised access of a protected computer, prosecutors said.

The phishing scheme is accomplished by people who use the Internet to target large numbers of victims and trick them into revealing their names, addresses, social security numbers, bank accounts and other personal information. The bogus e-mails are often made to appear as if they originated from legitimate banks or businesses.

The indictment alleges that the Romania-based members, or “suppliers,” of the alleged criminal enterprise obtained thousands of credit card and debit card accounts by sending out more than 1.3 million spam e-mails in one attack.

Once directed to a purportedly legitimate website, victims then supplied their personal information, according to court papers. The Romanian participants in the operation then forwarded the information to their US counterparts, or “cashiers,” the indictment alleges.

The US-based members then used a type of hardware called “encoders” to record the information onto magnetic strips on the back of debit and credit cards.

After the cards were tested by checking balance information or withdrawing small amounts of cash at ATMs, workable cards were used to withdraw money from ATMs and accounts that the suspects believed had the highest withdrawal limits, prosecutors said.

A portion of the ill-gotten money was then wired to the supplier who had provided the initial information, prosecutors said.

The investigation began with the arrest of a suspect in Orange County near Los Angeles in 2006, said the county’s Senior District Attorney Joe D’Agostino.

Federal officials said Romanian police took part in the investigation, along with the Internal Revenue Service, US Postal Service and Southern California police.

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