Application security, Threat Management, Malware, Phishing

Romanian accused of email address theft pleads guilty

A Romanian citizen pleaded guilty Thursday to his role in a phishing campaign that delivered bogus emails to the customers of a number of financial institutions, asking them to give up their personal information.

Cornel Ionut Tonita, 28, of Galati, Romania pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with electronic email, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut. He admitted that, between February and April of 2005, he used software tools to steal email addresses from websites and then provided that data to others to use in spamming and phishing campaigns.

In particular, Tonita sent a file to a co-conspirator that contained the harvested email addresses of 9,811 people, prosecutors said.

He was indicted in January 2007 and last July was arrested in Croatia on an Interpol warrant. Tonita was extradited in September to the United States, where he initially pleaded innocent.

He faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced, scheduled for April 5.

According to prosecutors, the defendants delivered bogus emails to the customers of a number of financial institutions, including JP Morgan Chase, Comerica Bank, Wells Fargo, eBay and PayPal, with the goal of tricking them into giving up their personal information, such as credit card, bank account and Social Security numbers.

The investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by a customer of People's United Bank, based in Connecticut.

Six others have been charged for their role in the criminal ring. In March, one of the accused became the first foreign citizen ever to be sentenced to U.S. federal prison for involvement in a phishing scheme. Ovidiu-Ionut Nicola-Roman, 23, was the first of the seven suspects to be caught. He was sentenced to 50 months after being arrested in 2007 in Bulgaria on an Interpol warrant.

In 2008, authorities busted a related Romanian-based identity theft ring that defrauded thousands of victims. A Los Angeles grand jury later returned an indictment that charged 33 people in connection with the scam.

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