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Secret Service, Placer County sheriff’s probe reels in big “phisher”

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County sheriff’s investigators are being credited with playing a key role in putting a Sacramento man behind bars for what is being considered the most widespread high-tech “phishing” operation the region has experienced. Described by the sentencing judge as a “one man wrecking crew when it comes to identity theft,” 34-year-old Tien Truong Nguyen ran about 20 bogus websites that spoofed eBay, Florida’s Fairwinds Credit Union, Washington State’s Heritage Bank and other financial institutions, court records show. Nguyen was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr. on Thursday to 12 years and seven months in prison for conspiring to commit computer fraud, possession of stolen access devices and being a felon in possession of a firearm. After fooling customers into divulging their personal information on spoof sites, Nguyen passed confidential ID information to people who used it to open credit and make illegal purchases. Analysis of Nguyen’s computer showed that he possessed credit cards and complete identities – including names, dates of birth and social security numbers – for 38,500 people, court filings said. The case was initially investigated by Detective Jim Hudson of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office in January 2007, with a warrant obtained in Placer County Superior Court to arrest Nguyen for his involvement in a Wal-Mart instant credit fraud. The subsequent search of his Sacramento residence resulted in the seizure of nearly 50 counterfeit credit cards and several computer systems. Detectives also seized thousands of dollars in merchandise that appeared to have been purchased with counterfeit credit cards, a Department of Justice court filing states. Department of Justice spokesman Lauren Horwood said Friday that prosecutors believe the Nguyen case is the largest single case of its type ever in the department’s East District of California. The district takes in 34 Northern California counties, including Sacramento and Placer. Sheriff’s investigators and U.S. Secret Service agents are credited with playing a crucial role in providing the evidence for a successful prosecution by U.S. Attorneys Matthew Segal and Robin Traylor of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property unit, Horwood said. Lt. Mark Reed of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said the case was launched because of complaints received by residents in unincorporated Placer County. People who feel they have been victimized by “phishing” or other computer scams should contact law enforcement in their jurisdiction for investigation, he said.