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AOL identity theft ring broken up

Six facing prison

Six men have been charged with orchestrating a phishing scheme that targeted AOL users, the US DoJ (Department of Justice) said yesterday.

The men are accused of harvesting thousands of AOL email addresses and then infecting victims' PCs with malicious software that would prevent them from logging on to AOL without entering their credit card numbers, bank account numbers and other personal information.

Under the scam, victims would receive fake email greeting cards that would silently infect their computers with the log-on software, according to a grand jury indictment. Victims were also spammed with fake email messages that claimed to have come from AOL's billing department.

"Due to a central server meltdown, your credit card information was lost," one such email read, according to the indictment. "In order to enjoy your AOL experience and keep your account active, you must enter your credit card information within 24 hours."

Some of the fake greeting cards claimed to come from websites such as Hallmark.com or BlueMountain.com, the indictment states.

AOL users appear to have been the primary targets of the fraud, but others may also have been targeted, according to Tom Carson, a spokesman for the United States Attorney's office for the District of Connecticut. "The investigation is ongoing," he said. "I think we can say the bulk of those targeted were AOL users, but we can't say with 100 percent certainty that they were the only victims."

The accused are believed to have defrauded thousands of individuals, US Attorney Kevin O'Connor said in a statement. "These are insidious crimes that wreak havoc on the lives of victims, and we will seek strict terms of imprisonment."

The alleged scam was conducted over a two-year period, beginning in 2004, O'Connor said.

Proceeds from the crime were used to purchase gaming consoles, laptop computers and gift cards, the indictment states.

The men were actually indicted on fraud charges last week by a federal grand jury in New Haven, but the charges were not made public until yesterday, when three of the men pleaded guilty.


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