Six men have been charged with orchestrating a phishing scheme that targeted AOL users, the U.S. Department of Justice said Wednesday.
The men are accused of harvesting thousands of AOL e-mail addresses and then infecting victims' PCs with malicious software that would prevent them from logging on to AOL without entering their credit card numbers, bank account numbers and other personal information.
Under the scam, victims would receive fake e-mail greeting cards that would silently infect their computers with the log-on software, according to a grand jury indictment. Victims were also spammed with phoney e-mail messages that claimed to have come from AOL's billing department.
"Due to a central server meltdown, your credit card information was lost," one such e-mail read, according to the indictment. "In order to enjoy your AOL experience and keep your account active, you must enter your credit card information within 24 hours."
Some of the fake greeting cards claimed to come from Web sites such as Hallmark.com or BlueMountain.com, the indictment states.
AOL users appear to have been the primary targets of the fraud, but others may also have been targeted, according to Tom Carson, a spokesman for the United States Attorney's office for the District of Connecticut. "The investigation is ongoing," he said. "I think we can say the bulk of those targeted were AOL users, but we can't say with 100 percent certainty that they were the only victims," he said.
The accused are believed to have defrauded thousands of individuals, U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said in a statement. "These are insidious crimes that wreak havoc on the lives of victims, and we will seek strict terms of imprisonment."
The alleged scam was conducted over a two-year period, beginning in 2004, the U.S. Attorney said.
Proceeds from the crime were used to purchase gaming consoles, laptop computers and gift cards, the indictment states.
The men were actually indicted on fraud charges last week by a federal grand jury in New Haven, but the charges were not made public until Wednesday, when three of the men pleaded guilty.
The three who have pleaded guilty face between two years and nine and a half years in prison, Carson said. They are Charlie Blount Jr., 22, Richard D'Andrea, 22, and Thomas Taylor Jr., 20. They are scheduled to be sentenced in mid-December.
The three men awaiting arraignment are Michael Dolan, 22, Keith Riedel, 20, and Daniel Mascia, 22.
Dolan had previously been sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to accessing a protected computer without authorization.