Aussie Tech Entrepreneur Extradited Over SMS Fraud

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A Russian-born tech entrepreneur has been extradited to the United States from Australia to face charges relating to a multi-million-dollar text messaging consumer fraud scheme.

The arrival in America of 41-year-old dual Russian and Australian citizen Eugeni Tsvetnenko was announced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Friday. Tsvetnenko – also known as “Zhenya” – was extradited on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors allege that former Perth resident Tsvetnenko conspired with others to operate an auto-subscribing scheme that signed cell phone users to receive premium paid for content via text message without their knowledge or consent. 

“Eugeni Tsvetnenko is alleged to have surreptitiously subscribed hundreds of thousands of cell phone users to a $9.99 per-month charge for recurring text messages they did not approve or want,” said US attorney Damian Williams.  

Victims of the scheme received text messages on horoscopes, celebrity gossip and trivia facts. The scheme’s operators defrauded victims of approximately $41,389,725 and made around $20m in profits. 

Tsvetnenko’s alleged co-conspirators include Darcy Wedd, the operator of telecommunications company Mobile Messenger, and Fraser Thompson, Mobile Messenger’s senior vice president of strategic operations. 

“Tsvetnenko and his co-conspirators concocted a scheme that turned thousands of mobile phone customers into unwitting subscription service participants, as alleged,’ said FBI assistant director-in-charge Michael J. Driscoll said.

He added: “These customers incurred monthly charges for services they never subscribed to and, in many cases, disregarded as spam until the charges turned up on their monthly statements.”

Prosecutors allege that at the start of 2012, Wedd, Thompson and two other Mobile Messenger senior executives recruited Tsvetnenko to their auto-subscribing scheme to boost their company’s revenue. Tsvetnenko allegedly agreed and established two new content providers based in Australia, CF Enterprises and DigiMobi, to auto-subscribe on Mobile.

CC-3 allegedly provided Tsvetnenko with lists of phone numbers to target, along with instructions on how to auto-subscribe without being caught by making it appear as if the customers had genuinely chosen to buy the text-messaging services.

Tsvetnenko is further accused of working with co-conspirators to launder the proceeds of the auto-subscribing scheme.

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