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Man pockets $8m running computer fraud ring

Zombies dialed premium phone numbers

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A New Hampshire man has admitted pocketing almost $8 million in a scheme that infected people's computers with software that forced their modems to surreptitiously dial premium phone numbers.

Asu Pala, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and five counts of failing to filed a US income tax return. He was charged on April 2 and pleaded guilty 19 days later. The case was sealed until recently.

According to documents filed in US District Court in Massachusetts, Pala employed software developers who wrote and tested the programs and he later sent it to other co-conspirators. From 2003 through 2007, Pala's take in the ring was $7.94 million. At least 250 victims from Germany and possibly other European countries were duped. Victims, who prosecutors said didn't notice the charges and paid them, numbered more than 250.

Pala's cohorts rented premium phone numbers from German telephone companies. They stood to profit each time one of their numbers was called.

Although Pala operated out of Massachusetts, all the victims are believed to have been located in Europe. The US Attorney's Office in Boston is seeking statements from potential victims. People who think they were scammed may complete a victim impact statement form (PDF).

Pala faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or twice the gain or loss on each count. He will also be required to pay restitution to each of the known victims and to the Internal Revenue Service. Prosecutors agreed to recommend 92 months imprisonment in exchange for the guilty plea. Feds have already seized more than three-dozen pieces of computer gear under US criminal forfeiture statutes. ®

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