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A 39-year-old Italian man convicted of running a porn dialler scam was last week jailed for 14 months on fraud and virus distribution charges. The unnamed perp was also fined €3,000 by a Milan court, after pleading guilty to masterminding an elaborate virus writing scam designed to fleece gullible Windows users. The case marks the first conviction for virus writing in Italy, Italian tech daily Punto Informatico reports.

The nameless crook stood to net €104,000 from a scam which tricked users into running a virus, called Voltan, which altered the internet dial-up number used by victims to a premium rate line. Voltan (AKA Marq-A), first seen in October 2003, directs potential victims to a website where a malicious program posing as a screensaver can be downloaded. If run, the virus changes the phone number used for accessing the internet to a premium-rate number based in Aruba, in the Dutch Antilles.

Investigators claim that after just three days more than 57,000 minutes were logged on the premium-rate number at an estimated cost of €104,000. The scam was uncovered and blocked when the perp returned to Italy from Venezuela to negotiate extra telephone lines, La Repubblica reports. Italian financial police were able to freeze the money accrued through the 'viral marketing' scheme. Funds were first sent to a New York bank account, transferred to Venezuela, before ending up in an account belonging to a ghost company in Aruba.

The text used in the virus was Italian, so it found few takers outside the country. Voltan arrived in the form of an email with the subject line "The moment is cathartic", which directed users to download a supposed screensaver called zelig.scr. Flavio Oreglio, one of the stars of the Italian TV show Zelig, is the author of a book called The moment is cathartic and this may have induced some recipients to download the malicious program. Zelig is also the name of a 1980s Woody Allen film about a man who travels through history, assuming a number of different guises. ®

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