Feeds

Prison time for unlucky phisher

Moral: don't try to scam an FBI agent

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Using blade systems to cut costs and sharpen efficiencies

An Ohio woman who used forged e-mails from "AOL security" to swindle America Online subscribers out of their credit card numbers was sentenced to 46 months in prison Tuesday, after a federal judge in Virginia rejected her plea for a reduced sentence.

Helen Carr, 55, pleaded guilty last October to one count of conspiracy for her role in a scheme that sent mass e-mails to AOL subscribers purporting to be from the company's security department. According to court records, the messages claimed that AOL's last attempt to bill the recipient's credit card had failed, and included a link to an "AOL Billing Center" web page, where an online form demanded the user's name, address, credit card number, expiration date, three-digit CCV number and credit card limit.

The scheme began to unravel in February, 2001, when Carr unwittingly spammed an off-duty FBI agent with the Norfolk, Virginia field office. The agent, a computer crime specialist, was apparently not taken in by the scam mail, which boasted a return address of "precious44257166@aol.com" and was sent to 19 other AOL users at the same time. The "Billing Center" web page was served by Geocities. "[A] legitimate AOL billing center would not be found at this location," agent Joseph Yuhasz wrote in an affidavit in the case.

Yuhasz sent a copy of the web page to what was then the Bureau's National Infrastructure Protection Center, which determined that the site was designed to e-mail its ill-gotten bounty to a particular Yahoo account.

From there, a cooperative Yahoo official and some helpful ISPs led the g-man to homes in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Subsequent raids on the homes yielded quick confessions from a professional spammer and a credit card thief named George Patterson, both of whom snitched on Carr, naming her as the ringleader of the operation, according to the FBI affidavit. A search of Carr's Ohio home turned up two computers packed with files relating to the scam.

Carr's 46 month sentence falls in the middle of the 36 to 57 month range dictated by the federal sentencing guidelines. Under the federal rules, credit card swindlers are sentenced according to the amount of fraudulent charges racked up on the stolen card numbers, with each card valued at a minimum of $500.00. Federal judge Jerome Friedman rejected a request by Carr's defense attorney for a "downward departure" below the 36 month minimum.

"This sentence may very well be the most substantial punishments ever meted out for this type of crime, and it is commensurate with the seriousness of the offense," said U.S Attorney Paul McNulty in a statement. Carr's attorney, Melinda Glaubke, did not return a phone call on the case.

Patterson was sentenced to 37 months last July. The Carr and Patterson case appears to be the first successful federal prosecution of a "phishing" scam -- an online annoyance that's increasingly snaring unwary netizens and cluttering inboxes around the world with e-mails claiming to be from PayPal, AOL, eBay, Citibank, Barclays, and other businesses. "There have been other prosecutions of people stealing credit card numbers over the Web, but not these phishing schemes," says Mark Rasch, an attorney and former head of the Justice Department's computer crime unit.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia said Carr remains free on bail, and is scheduled to surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons at a later date.

Copyright © 2004, SecurityFocus logo

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.