Feds Target Spammer for ID Theft

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Federal authorities announced yesterday the arrest and conviction of a spammer accused of impersonating AOL and PayPal to obtain credit card and personal information from consumers.

The FTC said it obtained a restraining order against Zachary Keith Hill, who also pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought by the Justice Department. Hill's sentencing in the criminal case in Richmond, VA, federal court is scheduled for May 17.

The FTC alleges Hill last July sent an undetermined number of unsolicited e-mail messages to consumers in two scams. In the first, he impersonated AOL's billing department with a message that asked consumers to confirm their billing information. The e-mail linked a Web page that had the appearance of AOL's billing center, complete with AOL logos and links to AOL content. Hill then used the information collected to open new credit card accounts, the complaint alleges. The FTC said Hill sent similar messages asking consumers for their Paypal passwords, which he then used to make purchases.

The suits did not say how many consumers gave their information in response to the e-mail messages.

The cases against Hill were brought for what is known as "phishing" -- online identity theft schemes. The FTC brought its first phishing case last July when it reached a settlement with a California teenager for sending e-mail that purported to be from the AOL billing center in order to obtain banking and personal information.

The FTC last July began an information campaign to alert consumers to phishing schemes. It urged consumers not to respond to e-mails warning their accounts will be shut down if they do not respond with billing or other personal information. The FTC recommends consumers contact the company by phone or through a Web address they know to be real, and forward e-mails they suspect as scams to the FTC.

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