German man sentenced to seven years in prison for online swindling

The gang caused over €1 million in damages, the public prosecutor said

A 23-year-old German man was sentenced to seven years in prison for an online swindle with fake Web shops that caused ¬1.1 million (US$1.36 million) in damages, a spokeswoman of the lower regional court in Augsburg said on Tuesday.

Authorities believe that the man, who is from Essen, lead a gang swindlers who ran a network of 187 fraudulent online shops, said Matthias Nickolai, spokesperson for the public prosecution in Augsburg. "He himself of course denied that he was the leader," Nickolai added.

The shops sold goods like electronic equipment, home appliances and precious metals among other things, he said. Customers never received the items they ordered and during the time the shops operated they "sold" goods in 2,054 known cases, said Nickolai, citing the indictment. The gang operated between November 2008 and August 2011.

Besides selling nonexistent goods, the swindlers also stole customer bank account data, which they used to pilfer more than ¬200,000 in 117 individual transactions, he said. The gang used a phishing email to tell victims that a computer virus compromised their accounts. Those emails led victims to a fake website that appeared to be a legitimate bank site in order to obtain account and other personal information from victims, according to the German public prosecutor.

The suspected leader of the gang was arrested in May 2011 and his case was the last to be heard by the court, according to Nickolai. Three other members of the cybercrime gang were also arrested and their cases were previously heard by the court. One other man was sentenced to four years in prison, while another man was given a two-year suspended sentence. A woman who was arrested also received a suspended sentence of one year and six months.

Other gang members who, for instance, served as so-called "money mules" transferring stolen money or who were linked to the gang in another way, also were prosecuted and received fines or suspended prison sentences. There are still cases of alleged gang members pending in court, he said. One of the total of 19 initial suspects was found not guilty, he added.

The man sentenced Tuesday can appeal his sentence to the German Federal Court of Justice and then to the European Court of Human Rights if he loses his federal appeal, Nickolai said.

Names of those involved in the cybercrime gang were not publicly disclosed.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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