Swedish Scareware Scammer Sentenced

December 17, 2012

Dialog from SpySheriff, designed to scare user...

Dialog from SpySheriff, designed to scare users into installing the rogue software (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

C'mon, admit it.  You were surfing the Internet at the office when you were supposed to be working; or you were at home killing time by visiting some so-called "adult" sites.  Suddenly, something popped up on your screen warning you that you had logged on to a site that had infected your computer.

You panic. You click the "X" in the upper right hand corner of the message but it is quickly replaced by another . . . and another and another and another. And each new message gets a bit more frightening about the damage that's going to happen, soon, if you don't immediately send a credit card payment for some antivirus software.

As you read the unwanted pop-up warnings, you learn that you may yet be able to undo the damage if you download an anti-virus program that will scan your drives, detect the intruder, and quarantine the bad files.

Trust me, don't do it!

Yeah, I know, it looks like the real deal and the product's name seems like one that you've heard about. Maybe it's something from Microsoft orSymantec?  It's not! It's just another scam. It's going to make a bad situation worse, as in thermonuclear.


Now what?

Are you about to infect the office server or crash your home network?  How are you going to explain the eHarmony.com visits to your spouse or the porn or the Amazon shopping or the eBay posts or the visit to your Facebook and Twitter pages or those downloaded pictures of the cute puppies from the rescue site?

If you activated the free computer scan, it's too late.  If you opted to purchase the antiviral software, it's too late. The bad guys are now holding your computer hostage. If you hesitate, another more urgent warning pops up. If you try to log out or delete the message, a new iteration takes its place.  And each replacement warning ratchets up the fear.

Ah, yes, welcome to the world of Scareware!

It's a place between a rock and a hard place.  If you order the antiviral relief, it doesn't even exist - as in a fake piece of fraudulent crap.  Of course, if you do order the software with your credit card, good luck!  Your confidential financial information may well be compromised and making its way around too many dark and devious places around the world. You're probably going to need a bona fide anti-Malware, anti-Scareware, anti-viral program and the hands-on assistance of a professional.

The Processor

In response to such online nastiness,  Operation Trident Tribunal has been targeting international cybercrime - and recently made significant headway against one scareware ring that victimized over a million users to the tune of more than $71 million  How did the scamsters get to that astounding amount?  In some cases, their victims paid as much as $129 for the bogus antivirus program.

All of which brings us to the case of Mikael Patrick Sallnert, 37, a citizen ofSweden, who established and operated credit card payment processing services for the scareware ring cited above.  Not a mere clueless provider, Sallnert knew that his co-conspirators were intentionally causing fake and fraudulent messages to display on victims' computers that would fraudulently induce the victims into purchasing security software - between approximately August 2008 and October 2009, Sallnert made it possible for this crooks to handle some $5 million in credit card payments.

On January 19, 2012, Sallnert was arrested in Denmark  and in March 2012 extradited to the United States.  On Aug. 17, 2012, Sallnert pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of accessing a protected computer in furtherance of fraud.

On December 14, 2012,  Sallnert was sentenced in the Western District ofWashington to 48 months in prison and ordered to pay $650,000 in forfeiture.

Computer users who think they have been victimized by scareware should file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.