Be careful about entering personal information into a public computer, says a U.S. attorney who prosecuted a case involving international identity theft.
A Colombian man pleaded guilty Wednesday to a 16-count indictment involving an identity theft scheme in which he installed keylogging software on hotel business center computers and Internet lounges in order to steal passwords, account data and other personal information, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
The computer fraud scheme had more than 600 victims worldwide, including U.S. Department of Defense employees, the DOJ said. Mario Simbaqueba Bonilla, 40, used money obtained in the scheme to buy expensive electronic devices, including a home theater system, and to fund luxury travel to Hong Kong, France, Jamaica, the U.S. and other locations, according to a DOJ news release and the indictment in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Simbaqueba Bonilla, sometimes working with a co-conspirator, used a series of complex computer intrusions to steal money from payroll, bank and other accounts, the DOJ said. Much of the identity theft activity targeted U.S. residents, including employees of the Department of Defense.
Simbaqueba Bonilla used the data he intercepted from his victims, who were typically guests at hotels throughout the U.S., to steal or divert money from their accounts into other accounts he had created in the names of other people he had victimized in the same way, the DOJ said. Through a complex series of electronic transactions designed to cover his trail, Simbaqueba Bonilla would transfer the stolen money to credit, cash or debit cards and have the cards mailed to himself and others at Pak Mail and other commercial mailing addresses.
Federal agents arrested Simbaqueba Bonilla when he flew into the U.S. in August.
Simbaqueba Bonilla was flying on an airline ticket purchased with stolen funds, and had in his possession a laptop also purchased with stolen funds, the DOJ said. That laptop contained the names, passwords and other personal and financial information of more than 600 people.
R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, warned travelers to think twice before entering personal information on a public computer.
“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case,” Acosta said in a statement. “The Internet is an outstanding tool, but it is vulnerable. Criminals like Bonilla use the Internet to steal our banking and personal data, and then our money.”
The DOJ was assisted in the investigation by the Department of Defense, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.