Husband and wife stole $550,000 on mini phishing rampage, police allege

Operated low-key theft campaign

A US couple have been arrested for allegedly running a small-scale but highly sophisticated phishing scam that managed to steal at least $550,000 (£350,000) from hundreds of victims.

According to police reports in Florida, it is believed that Stephen Barone, 46, and his wife Robin Barone, 44, targeted customers of JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo with phishing emails asking for their account and personal details in order to resolve a claimed account breach.

Rather than access the online bank accounts of victims, the pair used the data to order replacement cards to be sent to their address which were then used to buy money orders later paid into Stephen Barone's business account.

This low-key approach made it possible for them to commit the crime over a period of years. Around 400 people lost funds totalling at least $550,000, although more victims might be discovered in time, police have indicated.

The alleged scam unwound after it was noticed that multiple bank cards were being sent to the same address in Florida.

"Identity theft wreaks havoc on people's lives, and my Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law," said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

"I urge all Floridians to visit for identity theft prevention tips, and I encourage everyone to be vigilant and extremely cautious when giving anyone your personal information."

Detectives told local news sources that the pair were linked to Nigerian phishing criminals. Stephen Barone was also said to have previously been arrested but not convicted of drug possession, domestic violence, child neglect and kidnapping.

The case appears unusual because it was run on a relatively limited scale over a long period by only two people. Overwhelmingly, reported phishing gangs are larger, more integrated into digital crime, and often from or connected to Eastern Europe.

In fact, in most countries phishing remains in part a local cottage industry that attracts many self-starters, some with previous criminal records and wider crime interests. These cases rarely steal large sums and tend to pass unreported.

In December, Websense reported that the number of phishing emails fell during 2013 but that they were better targeted to delay detection.

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