International Scammers Sentenced in Phishing Scheme

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Hartford, CT—Earlier this week, a the foreign defendant to be convicted in an Internet-based financial scam was sentenced to more than four years in prison.

Last year, Ovidiu-Ionut Nicola-Roman was charged in a global “phishing” scheme perpetrated by 38 people in Connecticut and California. Half of those charged, including Nicola-Roman, are Romanian citizens.

Phishing is a method of illegally obtaining sensitive information, such as credit-card numbers or social-security numbers, through the use of unsolicited emails. In this case, the fraudulent emails instructed recipients to log onto websites, where they were asked to input their information. The websites were replicas of such major financial sites as PayPal, Citibank and Wells Fargo, but were totally illegitimate, authorities say.

Nicola-Roman used the ill-gotten credit-card and bank-account information to steal between $200,000 and $400,000. The 23-year-old was arrested in Bulgaria and extradited to the United States in 2007.

In that same year, a total of 3.6 million victims of phishing attacks in the United States lost over $3 billion dollars. Yet the toll taken by phishing scams is much higher; victims suffer not only financial loss, but also damage to their credit reports, fear of using the Internet, and further instances of fraud or identity theft from the widespread distribution of their personal information.

Despite the damage done by phishers, there have been only a handful of prosecutions, Investigators say the crime is difficult to prove, especially since it often crosses national boundaries and can be carried out relatively anonymously.

Nicola-Roman was sentenced to 50 months in a federal prison. Prosecutors laud the decision as sending a message to overseas criminals who attempt such financial scams both internationally and within the U.S.

Scammers in this case included not only Romanians and Americans, but also Canadians, Portugese and Pakistanis. The phishers sent out spam email in order to collect credit and debit card information, then sent this data to the U.S., where it was turned into tangible magnetic cards and used to withdraw money from the victims’ bank accounts.

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall, who presided over the case, scolded Nicola-Roman. “Sitting at a computer in Romania, you in effect wreaked havoc upon the people whose credit card numbers you were stealing,” she said.

Nicola-Roman, who had no previous criminal record, has apologized for the suffering he has caused. “I will never be involved in such things again,” he stated.

 

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