Romanian faces five years in prison for phishing scheme

Pleads guilty on charges related to scheme used to defraud Citibank, Wells Fargo, eBay customers

A Romanian national pleaded guilty on Thursday to a charge related to a phishing operation that sought to defraud customers of banks such as Citibank and Wells Fargo, and of Web sites such as eBay.

Cornel Ionut Tonita, 28, of Galati, Romania, could face up to five years in prison when he is sentenced on April 5 in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud related to spam.

Tonita and another Romanian, Petru Belbita, were accused of setting up fake Web sites in order to steal passwords and sensitive financial information. They also were allegedly passing payment card details to others who would then make fraudulent cards.

A third Romanian co-conspirator, Ovidiu-Ionut Nicola-Roman, was the first foreign national convicted in the U.S. of phishing and was sentenced in March 2009 to more than four years in prison.

Tonita admitted using software to collect e-mail addresses in order to send spam that would then try to entice people into browsing one of the fake Web sites. Prosecutors alleged he sent a file with 9,811 e-mail addresses to another co-conspirator.

Tonita was arrested in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in July 2009 and extradited to the U.S. His arrest was part of a sweeping bust in May 2008 by U.S. and Romanian authorities that led to charges against around 40 people, all of whom had ties to organized crime, the DOJ has said.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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