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ID theft ring proves difficult to stop

A Clearwater software company is working to help shut down the sites, but lawbreakers stay a step ahead.

Published September 9, 2005

The wheels of justice turn slowly, even in high-tech investigations.

Almost a month after Sunbelt Software of Clearwater discovered what it called an international identity theft ring, one Web site collecting the data has been shut down. But the operation is active.

"We found multiple versions of this variant," said Eric Sites, Sunbelt's vice president of research and development. "There are other centers that are still operating that we're working to get shut down."

The FBI, which does not comment on or confirm ongoing investigations, picked up more information from Sunbelt last week, Sites says.

But the investigation is hampered by a variety of factors, Sites says, such as the use of stolen or hijacked Web sites. The legitimate owners have to be tracked down, and they have to give the okay to shutter the address.

Plus, it's an international operation - Singapore is the site of one server - which complicates investigations. Sunbelt is working with banking organizations in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to help banks and their customers.

In the theft ring, special software called spyware was secretly installed on computers to record the keystrokes of the users. Those keystrokes include such things as typing out bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, passwords and other information. The software then transmitted that information to a Web site.

There, the information was downloaded by the thieves and then deleted to make room for more. Even with widespread publicity, Sites says, the ring has not been spooked.

And the thieves move quickly.

"They're like a flash in the pan," Sites said.

[Last modified September 9, 2005, 01:18:20]

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