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Internet crime ring based in Romania busted; 38 are charged

WASHINGTON — Thirty-eight people were charged Monday with stealing names, Social Security numbers, credit card data and other personal information from unsuspecting Internet users as part of a global crime ring.

The Romania-based phishing scams sought to rip off thousands of consumers and hundreds of financial institutions, according to indictments unsealed in Los Angeles and New Haven, Conn.

The two related cases marked the latest example of what the Justice Department describes as a growing worldwide threat posed by organized crime.

More than half those charged in Monday's cases are Romanian, although the alleged scam also operated from the United States, Canada, Portugal and Pakistan. The cases were linked by two Romanians who participated in both schemes, authorities said.

In Los Angeles, 33 people faced 65 counts of a bevy of charges, including racketeering, bank fraud and identity theft. Prosecutors say phishers based in Romania snagged information about thousands of credit and debit card accounts and other personal data from people who answered spam e-mail. The data was then sent to the United States and encoded on magnetic cards that could be used to withdraw money from bank accounts.

An encoder in the scam, Seuong Wook Lee, pleaded guilty last week in federal court in Los Angeles to racketeering conspiracy, bank fraud, access device fraud and unauthorized access of a protected computer.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, seven Romanians allegedly spammed consumers with directions to visit a hacked-in Web site posing as at least a half-dozen legitimate bank sites, including Citibank, Wells Fargo and PayPal. The seven — including two also involved in the Los Angeles scheme — were indicted in January in charges that were unsealed only last week.

>>fast facts

What is phishing?

Phishing typically involves sending fraudulent e-mails that include links directing recipients to fake Web sites where they are asked to input sensitive data. Phishers may also include attachments that, when clicked, secretly install spyware that can capture personal information and send it to third parties over the Internet.

Protect yourself

• If you receive an e-mail message from any firm asking you to click a link to supply it with private information, delete the e-mail.

• If you need to update your personal information, do not navigate to a Web site from an e-mail link.

• Beware of e-mail attachments. Make sure the e-mail is from the person you think it is — the sender's name can be forged — before you open anything.

Sources: Associated Press, Princeton University

Internet crime ring based in Romania busted; 38 are charged 05/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 19, 2008 10:20pm]
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