'Phishing' Case Nets 46-Month Sentence, FTC Settlement

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Two people accused of sending spam as part of a "phishing" operation -- using deceptive means to steal personally identifying information -- have settled civil charges involving the operation, the Federal Trade Commission said yesterday.

One of them, Zachary Keith Hill of Houston, also was sentenced in May to 46 months in prison on fraud charges filed by the Justice Department. The other defendant was an unnamed minor.

According to the FTC, the pair posed as representatives of America Online and sent e-mails to consumers saying a billing problem had occurred with their accounts. The messages said consumers could lose their accounts if they failed to update their billing information by following a link in the e-mail.

The link led to a Web page bearing the style, colors and logo of AOL, the FTC said. However, the page's purpose was to illegally record the consumer's billing information for Hill and the unnamed minor, according to the FTC.

The FTC filed suit against Hill in U.S. District Court for Southern Texas in December. It sued the minor in U.S. District Court for Eastern New York in May.

Under the FTC settlement, Hill and the minor are banned from spamming and deception, and they agreed not to share any consumer information they collected. The courts suspended a $125,000 judgment against each of them -- the amount each is thought to have gained through the operation -- based on their financial records.

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