Website spoofer pleads guilty

A Chicago man has pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with a scheme that used a fake website to steal credit card and...

A Chicago man has pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with a scheme that used a fake website to steal credit card and account information from customers of Microsoft's Microsoft Network (MSN) internet service provider business.

The plea agreement is the latest in the government's fight against identity theft and so-called "phisher" websites, which mimic legitimate websites 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 website, www.msnbilling.com, which 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.

Account and credit card information provided through msnbilling.com was forwarded to one of the e-mail accounts Guevara set up.

Guevara will be sentenced in Seattle on 5 December. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 (£156,400).

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

In July, the FBI and ISP Earthlink issued a joint statement warning consumers about an increase in phisher websites.

A month later, Earthlink announced that it was suing a Vancouver spam ring that it alleged was using Earthlink e-mail accounts to support a phisher site targeting at America Online members.

The FBI has reported a "steady increase" in complaints to its Internet Fraud Complaint Centre about the fake websites, while the US Federal Trade Commission said that identity theft has been the top consumer complaint reported to the agency for the past three years.

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service

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