States Attorney's Office District of Connecticut
|February 8, 2010||
ROMANIAN CITIZEN WHO HARVESTED EMAIL ADDRESSES USED IN PHISHING SCHEME IS SENTENCED
Nora R. Dannehy, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that CORNEL IONUT TONITA, 28, of Galati, Romania, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Janet C. Hall in Bridgeport to approximately seven months of imprisonment, time served, for his role in a “phishing” scheme that victimized individuals, financial institutions and companies. On January 14, 2010, TONITA pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with electronic mail (“spamming”).
A phishing scheme uses the Internet to target large numbers of unwary individuals, using fraud and deceit to obtain private personal and financial information such as names, addresses, bank account numbers, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers. Phishing schemes often work by sending out large numbers of counterfeit e-mail messages, or “spam,” which are made to appear as if they originated from legitimate banks, financial institutions or other companies.
According to court documents and statements made in court, from approximately February 2005 through April 2005, TONITA conspired with others to engage in spamming. TONITA was paid to use software tools to harvest email addresses from Internet sites, focusing primarily on colleges and universities in the United States. TONITA then provided the email addresses to others with the knowledge that they would send spam to those email addresses.
Specifically, on approximately March 19, 2005, TONITA sent a file containing approximately 9,811 email addresses to a co-conspirator.
On January 18, 2007, a federal grand jury in New Haven returned an indictment charging TONITA and five other Romanian citizens for their alleged participation in the phishing scheme.
TONITA has been detained since July 18, 2009, when he was arrested on an Interpol warrant at the sea border crossing in Dubrovnik, Croatia. He was extradited to the U.S. on September 4, 2009.
The investigation of this matter stemmed from a citizen’s complaint concerning a fraudulent e-mail message made to appear as if it originated from Connecticut-based People’s Bank. In fact, the e-mail message directed victims to a computer in Minnesota that had been compromised, or “hacked,” and used to host a counterfeit People’s Bank Internet site. During the course of the investigation, it was determined that the defendants had allegedly engaged in similar phishing schemes against many other financial institutions and companies, including Citibank, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Comerica Bank, Wells Fargo & Co., eBay and PayPal.
TONITA was transferred into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) after today’s sentencing, and he will be deported to Romania.
This matter has been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Connecticut Computer Crimes Task Force. Critical assistance to the investigation also has been provided by the FBI Legal Attachés in Vienna, Bucharest and Ottawa; Interpol in Zagreb and Washington, D.C.; the Romanian National Police; the Croatian Criminal Police Directorate and Croatian General Police Directorate; the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; Canada Border Services Agency in Montreal; and the United States Marshals Service.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Edward Chang.
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