Web site spoofer pleads guilty, faces jail time

Matthew Thomas Guevara will be sentenced Dec. 5

A Chicago man pleaded guilty on Sept. 12 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 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 $250,000, the DOJ said.

The plea agreement comes amid increased attention from law enforcement authorities to the threat of online identity theft.

In July, the FBI and EarthLink Inc. issued a joint statement that warned consumers about an increase in phisher Web sites (see story). A month later, Atlanta-based EarthLink announced that it was suing a Vancouver, British Columbia, spam ring that allegedly was using EarthLink e-mail accounts to support a phisher site targeted at America Online Inc. members (see story).

The FBI has reported a "steady increase" in complaints to its Internet Fraud Complaint Center about the phony Web sites, and the Federal Trade Commission has said that identity theft has been the No. 1 consumer complaint reported to the agency for the past three years.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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