A Chicago man pleaded guilty Friday to wire fraud in connection with a scheme that used a phony Web site to steal credit card and account information from customers of Microsoft Corp.’s Microsoft Network (MSN) Internet service provider business.
The plea agreement is the latest salvo in the government’s stepped up efforts against identity theft and so-called “phisher” Web sites, which mimic legitimate Web sites and trick unsuspecting Internet users into divulging sensitive personal and financial information.
As part of a plea agreement, 21-year-old Matthew Thomas Guevara acknowledged that he set up a Web site, www.msnbilling.com, that was designed to harvest personal financial and account information. Guevara then sent e-mail from Hotmail accounts to MSN customers asking them to visit the site and update their MSN account information, according to a statement Friday from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Account and credit card information provided through msnbilling.com was actually forwarded to one of the e-mail accounts Guevara set up, the DOJ said.
Guevara will be sentenced on Dec. 5 by a federal judge in U.S. District Court for Western District of Washington in Seattle and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to US $250,000, the DOJ said.
The plea agreement comes amidst increased attention from law enforcement to the threat of online identity theft.
In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and ISP Earthlink Inc. issued a joint statement that warned consumers about an increase in phisher Web sites.
One month later, Atlanta-based Earthlink announced that
it was suing
a Vancouver spam ring that it alleged was using Earthlink e-mail accounts to support a phisher site targeted at America Online Inc. members.
The FBI reports a “steady increase” in complaints to its Internet Fraud Complaint Center about the phony Web sites, while the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said that identity theft has been the number one consumer complaint reported to the agency for the last three years.