South Floridian Residents Charged in Phishing Scams

Recently on my Website, I’ve been focusing on the topic of identity theft since tax season is fast approaching and the rise in these types of cases increases dramatically this time of year.

Most people submit their tax information to the IRS before the April 15 deadline hoping to receive their refund checks as early as possible.

But in many cases, others are already spending that expected money as people continually check their mailboxes for the check they assume to receive from the Department of the Treasury.

When visiting my Website you can find pages that address recent identity theft legislation, as well as email scams that we’re all vulnerable to, and how to protect yourself against these types of deceptions.

Phishing scams are a growing concern and challenge for law enforcement. In July of last year the FBI disabled an online criminal marketplace named darkcode.com where nefarious computer experts marketed illegal computer skills to the highest bidder.

At the time almost 90 individuals were arrested in the federal sting that took down the Website. Among them was Naveed Ahmed of Tampa, a systems administrator and master’s degree student who went to school at USF (the University of South Florida).

Ahmed faced a minimum of two years in federal prison under the sentencing guidelines however was sentenced to two years of probation for marketing his unlawful computer skills. Senior U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill Jr. imposed the lenient sentence in a Pittsburgh Courtroom.

The charge stemmed from a 2003 law fashioned to safeguard computer and cellphone users from receiving text messages and spam emails unwanted by the recipient for marketing purposes.

Ahmed and others involved were earning $2-3,000 weekly by conspiring to violate the law.

Ahmed’s cooperation in the case apparently influenced the federal judge in his light decision along with his attorney’s argument that Ahmed is “a man of considerable intelligence who has unfortunately succumbed to directing those talents in the wrong way.”

After being sentenced, Ahmed told the judge “I know my actions were irresponsibleā€¦ I had this naive, immature view of being invincible.”

Another pending case, involves a couple from South Florida who used an email phishing scam to allegedly steal the personal information from hundreds of people.

Steven and Robin Barone were arrested by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) after a search warrant was served at the couple’s Orlando area rented home. The couple was charged with the above listed offense as well as grand theft, and perpetrating an organized scheme to defraud after an investigation began that targeted them when they lived in Winter Springs nine months earlier. The police agency believes the phishing scam may have begun as much as four years earlier.

The investigation began when an alert from JPMorgan Chase detailing suspicious account activity in the Seminole County area was filed.

The Barones allegedly sent phishing emails using the credentials for JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo banks, presumably with the institutions logos in view; baiting unsuspecting individuals to give up their personal identification information. The emails stated that the recipient’s account had been compromised and it was vital that their information was updated immediately to detect and rectify the issue. If the victim clicked the enclosed link in the body of the email they were taken to a form page that asked for their credit card numbers with PIN, date of birth, and other personal data.

Once the information was received by the return of the filled out form the offenders placed orders to the banks for replacement debit cards having them delivered by the United States Postal Service to quite a few addresses that were previously made accessible to them in the Central Florida area. After the new cards were received, Mr. Barone obtained money orders using the new cards and then deposited the funds into Steve Barone Enterprises, LLC, a business account he previously setup in May 2012.

This was not the first time that the Barones were in trouble with the law. Previously, Mr. Barone was arrested for cocaine possession, dealing amphetamines, child neglect, domestic violence and kidnapping. However, he was not convicted of any of those charges. Mrs. Baron previously pleaded no contest to child neglect.

According to FDLE Special Agent Supervisor Danny Warren the emails originated from Nigeria and directly tied the Barones to the African Country. Warren also said that this type of crime was relatively common.

Hundreds of victims got caught up in the scam that ultimately benefitted the Barones more than one half million dollars. A statement released by FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey stated that “Agents believe this couple stole money from hundreds of victimsā€¦ The crime was wide reaching, damaging not only the obvious victims but also other consumers and our business community.”

At the time the charges were filed, the couple was booked into the Orange County Jail on a combined bond amount of $285,000.

More suspects as well as victims are expected to emerge as the overall investigation continues.

Check back here for updates on this case as they become available.

Michael Cohen is a federal identity theft attorney with close to twenty years of experience defending clients in the private sector. He previously worked as an Assistant United States Attorney as well as holding other prosecutorial titles for the United States Government.