Unlucky phisher pleads guilty

Thursday, 30 October 2003, 11:51 AM EST

An Ohio woman whose credit card fraud schemes began to unravel when she unwittingly spammed an off-duty FBI computer crime agent pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge Tuesday, and potentially faces years in prison.

Helen Carr, 55, admitted in a federal court in Virginia to conspiring with colleagues in the spam community to send mass e-mails to AOL subscribers purporting to be from the company's security department. According to court records, the messages claimed that AOL's last attempt to bill the recipient's credit card had failed, and included a link to an "AOL Billing Center" webpage, where an online form demanded the user's name, address, credit card number, expiration date, three-digit CCV number and credit card limit.

The so-called "phishing" scams have developed as a popular technique for fraudsters to swindle people out of everything from PayPal accounts to ATM codes. In recent months the already-generous flow of fraudulent e-mails purporting to be from PayPal, eBay and Citibank were joined by a fresh influx of junk mail bearing the false imprimaturs of stalwart British institutions like Halifax, NatWest, Barclays and Lloyd's of London. Last month a particularly bold variant on the scheme directed netizens to a fake FBI anti-fraud website that prompted them for their debit or credit card numbers and PINs.

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