A US man has been sentenced to seven years in prison for masterminding a phishing scheme that targeted AOL users over a four-year period.
Michael Dolan, 24, was sentenced on Wednesday in Connecticut federal court. The seven-year sentence was the maximum he could have received, said assistant US district attorney Edward Chang. Dolan was also sentenced to three years' supervised release. Last year Dolan pleaded guilty to fraud and aggravated identity theft charges.
Federal prosecutors had argued that he masterminded a scam in which he and five other men harvested thousands of AOL email addresses and then infected victims' PCs with malicious software that would prevent them from logging on to AOL without entering their credit card numbers, bank account numbers and other personal information. The scam ran between 2002 and 2006, prosecutors said.
All of the defendants have pleaded guilty. Another defendant, Keith Riedel, is set to be sentenced today.
Victims would receive fake email greeting cards that would silently infect their computers with the log-on software, according to a grand jury indictment. They were also spammed with fake email messages that claimed to have come from AOL's billing department.
"Due to a central server meltdown, your credit card information was lost," one such email read. "In order to enjoy your AOL experience and keep your account active, you must enter your credit card information within 24 hours."
Some of the fake greeting cards claimed to come from websites such as Hallmark.com or BlueMountain.com. Proceeds from the crime were used to purchase gaming consoles, laptop computers and gift cards, the indictment states.
In court filings, Pickerstein had asked for a lighter sentence, saying that his client suffered from "severe mental illness" and had made poor decisions following his father's suicide. He argued that there were probably less than 50 victims of the scam, and that victim losses were closer to $43,000 - far less than argued by the government.
His lawyer, Harold Pickerstein, declined to comment further on the matter on Wednesday.
Assistant US Attorney Edward Chang painted a far different picture of the man, saying in a sentencing memorandum that Dolan has attempted to bribe a co-defendant, threatened to kill someone he thought was a government informant, and suborned perjury from his girlfriend. "Michael Dolan is a born leader - a leader of criminals", he wrote.
Dolan had previously admitted that the scam had netted more than $400,000 from 250 or more victims, Chang argued in the memorandum.
Before the AOL phishing charges, Dolan had previously been sentenced to two years of probation after pleading guilty to accessing a protected computer without authorisation. He later was given nine months' jail time for violating his probation terms.