June 23, 2011

FBI Goes After Scareware Fraud Ring

The FBI and police agencies in seven other countries have seized computers and servers from which a "scareware" scheme was being operated.

According to Reuters, the operation had bilked more than $72 million from victims by selling software that claimed to find security risks on PCs and then asked for cash to fix the non-existent problems.

In the US, 22 computers and servers were seized along with 25 others in France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the US Justice Department reported in a statement on Wednesday.

In all, almost one million people are thought to have installed the fake software, also known as scareware, at a price of up to $129 for a copy. Those who did not pay but had downloaded the code were bombarded with pop-ups warning them about the supposed security issues.

Police raids conducted in Latvia as part of the attack on the gang resulted in the turnover of five bank accounts used to funnel cash to the group's ringleaders, BBC News reports.

No arrests are believed to have been made during the raids, however the FBI explained that after seized computers had been analyzed, police arrested Peteris Sahurovs, 22, and Marina Maslobojeva, 23, on Tuesday in Rezekne, Latvia.

The two were charged, in an indictment unsealed in a US District Court in Minnesota, with two counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of computer fraud, AFP reported.

According to the FBI, the two men pretended to be an advertising agency that wanted to put ads on the website of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper.

Once the ads started running, the pair are alleged to have changed them to install fake security software on victims' machines mimicking a computer virus. On payment of a fee the so-called infection was cured.

Those that did not pay found their machine was unusable until they handed over cash. This ruse is believed to have generated a return of about $2 million.

Sahurovs and Maslobojeva could face up to 20 years in prison on the wire fraud and conspiracy charges and up to 10 years in prison for computer fraud.

"These criminal enterprises infected the computers of innocent victims with malicious scareware, and then duped them into purchasing fake anti-virus software," US assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer said.

"We will continue to be aggressive and innovative in our approach to combating this international threat," Breuer said.


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