Woman Sentenced to 5 Years in Prison for Phishing Conviction
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested 26-year old Nichole Michelle Merzi from California, who was convicted of participating in a phishing scheme. As part of an official U.S.-Egyptian operation codenamed Operation Phish Phry, the woman has been identified as a member of a Los Angeles cyber-gang that caused more than $1 million in bank frauds.
The six-week trial for Nichole Michelle Merzi’s conviction found her guilty of bank and wire fraud conspiracy, identity theft, money laundering, and computer fraud. The 5-year prison sentence is relatively small compared to the 13-year conviction that her boyfriend was charged with.
“This international phishing ring had a significant impact on two banks and caused huge headaches for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bank customers,” said George S. Cardona, Acting United States Attorney at the time of the 2009 Operation Phish Phry. “Organized, international criminal rings can only be confronted by an organized response by law enforcement across international borders, which we have seen in this case.”
Along with Kenneth Joseph Lucas II, her boyfriend at the time, the gang operated in Egypt as well by wiring money to co-conspirators to avoid detection. With over 100 people involved in the criminal operation, Nichole Michelle Merzi is the latest in a long line of convictions that date back to 2009.
“The harm done by [Merzi]’s activities is undisputed,” according to the goverment’s sentencing memo. “Although BOA and Wells Fargo reimbursed the individual victims whose accounts were compromised, it is undeniable that the scheme affected a large number of victims,” given that the illegal phishing transfers “occurred in amounts around $1,000 at a time.”
International cyber-gangs that conduct phishing frauds often operate in large numbers and tracking down all co-conspirators can be time consuming. Thanks to joint efforts from multiple governments and officials these large hacking networks can be put to rest.