Scareware Ring Allegedly Racked Up $74 Million
- By Kevin McCaney
The FBI this week announced the arrest of two people suspected of being involved in a "scareware" scheme that extorted $74 million from about one million computer users over the last three years. The scam consisted of infecting users' computers and then selling them a phony fix, the FBI said.
The arrests resulted from Operation Trident Tribunal, an ongoing crime investigation involving the FBI and international law enforcement, the FBI announced in a release.
Two Latvians -- Peteris Sahurovs, 22, and Marina Maslobojeva, 23 -- were arrested in Latvia on charges filed in the federal District of Minnesota, which is one of the locations where the group allegedly operated during its three years in business.
More than 40 computers, servers and bank accounts were seized in the United States and Latvia, the FBI said.
In Minnesota, the defendants posed as representatives of an advertising agency and placed an ad for a hotel chain on the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Web site, the FBI said.
The Star Tribune's tech staff tested the ad and found nothing wrong with it, but after it began running, the group allegedly changed the code in the ad to infect the computer of anyone who clicked on it. The scareware froze users' computers and then sent a series of pop-up ads offering antivirus software to fix the problem, for $129.
The antivirus software was fake, the FBI said, but if people paid up, the group would unfreeze their computers, although malicious software remained. Users who didn't buy the "fix" found their data and files to be inaccessible, according to the FBI.
The defendants, charged with wire fraud, conspiracy and computer fraud, face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on the wire fraud and conspiracy charges, and up to 10 years and $250,000 on the computer fraud charge.
The FBI said the arrests were the first by the Operation Trident Tribunal, an ongoing international effort that includes law enforcement teams from the bureau, Justice Department, U.S. Attorney's office and investigators from Cyprus, Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, Romania, Canada and Great Britain.
Kevin McCaney is the managing editor of Government Computer News.