Two Men Arrested In Multimillion-Dollar Text Message Fraud Scheme

When you receive a spam text, you just ignore the message and delete the text, right? Sure, but it’s also a good idea to check your upcoming phone bills, since the service that sent the text may also be cramming unwanted charges on your phone bills. Two more people involved in such a scheme that ran from 2011 to 2013 were charged yesterday in federal court.

There are a total of six conspirators charged in this case: all of them have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, and also one count of wire fraud, and one of the men involved has been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. The other four conspirators were charged back in May.

The attorney of one of the men charged this week said in a statement to Reuters, “We are disappointed in this decision by the United States Attorney’s office, we disagree with it, and we will do our talking in court.”

The six people charged in this scheme have been accused of working together to subscribe millions of mobile customers to horoscope or celebrity gossip services that they had never asked for, for $10 per month. Two of the conspirators worked for a premium text billing service based in Australia, and they were asked to write a program that would generate fake authorizations to bill mobile carriers for content, so it would appear that customers had authorized these services that they had never heard of.

Here’s the best part: one of the conspirators was able to sell what were called “blacklists” or “ninja lists,” which contained the phone numbers of important people like phone company executives. Auto-subscribing their numbers might trigger an investigation in a way that auto-subscribing millions of ordinary consumers wouldn’t, so it was important to remove them from the database before running the program that would send fake approvals to carriers.

In a statement, sassy IRS Special Agent-in-Charge William Offord said: “Criminals rely more and more on technology to facilitate their fraud schemes. Those considering this type of cybercrime should take note: ‘auto-subscribing’ scams could mean ‘auto-arrest,’ conviction and jail time.”

Indictment [DOJ] (PDF download)

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