A spammer has received two years in prison for a bait and switch scheme that involved millions of illegal texts sent to mobile users.
Phillip Fleitz, 31, of Indianapolis, Indiana was one of a dozen U.S. residents arrested in “Operation Shrouded Horizon,” an international takedown back in July 2015 of the Darkode underground web forum and those who used the site to peddle their criminal services.
The investigation led to the arrest of Fleitz, two co-conspirators, and close to 70 people from 20 different countries.
As part of the joint operation, authorities took down the illegal forum, though it did manage to sprout back up again some two weeks later.
Prosecutors and the FBI claim that Fleitz masterminded an elaborate spam scheme that began by using “bulletproof” servers in China to infect computers into a botnet via vulnerable routers.
Once they had amassed a number of spambots, Naveed Ahmed of Tampa, Florida wrote a program that helped match cell phone numbers with their carriers, reports Naked Security. In the meantime, Dewayne Watts of Hernando, Florida wrote the bait text messages, and Fleitz operated the servers.
Together, the three criminals blasted out spam SMS messages to mobile users offering them Best Buy gift cards. When the users clicked on the text messages’ web links, they were instead directed to pages controlled by “cost per action” networks, which sought to obtain their email addresses and other personal information.
The Guardian notes that while these sites are legal, using spam to drive traffic to them is not.
From September 2011 to February 2013, the spammers made approximately $2000-$3000 a week for their bait and switch scheme. That is until authorities arrested all three individuals.
Despite Watts and Ahmed having both received probation, Fleitz is required to serve 27 months in prison for the spam campaign.
“Fleitz was the architect. It was his idea. He was the first to do it,” said U.S. attorney Jimmy Kitchen.
Following his sentencing, authorities handcuffed Fleitz, who has already begun serving his sentence.