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 Merziâ€™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.
â€œThis international phishing ring had a significant impact on two banks and caused huge headaches for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bank customers,â€ said George S. Cardona, Acting United States Attorney at the time of the 2009 Operation Phish Phry. â€œOrganized, international criminal rings can only be confronted by an organized response by law enforcement across international borders, which we have seen in this case.â€
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.
â€œThe harm done by [Merzi]â€™s activities is undisputed,â€ according to the govermentâ€™s sentencing memo. â€œAlthough BOA and Wells Fargo reimbursed the individual victims whose accounts were compromised, it is undeniable that the scheme affected a large number of victims,â€ given that the illegal phishing transfers â€œoccurred in amounts around $1,000 at a time.â€
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.