Star Tribune unknowingly hosted international scareware scam ads


In a federal indictment unsealed today in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, the Justice Department says that scam artists in Latvia hoodwinked the Star Tribune's website into hosting a virus designed to trick computer users into buying fake antivirus software.

The website's staff thought they were dealing with a legit ad agency, which bought space on for a hotel chain.

The staff checked out the ad's functionality before releasing it on the site, the indictment says, but once the ad appeared live, the scammers were able to access the code, and insert the virus.

"We are very grateful to the FBI and the Justice Department for pursuing this for more than a year and look forward to a just conclusion in the courts," Star Tribune general counsel Randy Lebedoff said on Wednesday.

The so-called scareware caused users' computers to freeze up and then generate a series of pop-up warnings in an attempt to trick users into purchasing the fake software. The cybercrime ring caused more than $74 million in total losses to more than a million computer users.

Peteris Sahurovs, 22, and Marina Maslobojeva, 23, were indicted in charges relating to scam yesterday. They were arrested in Rezekne, Latvia, as part of Operation Trident Tribunal, which traced equipment used in the scam to the Netherlands, Latvia, Germany, France, Lithuania, Sweden and the United Kingdom.