Idaho woman wanted in $163 million internet scam

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A former Idaho woman believed to be hiding out in the Caribbean owes the U.S. government $163 million, part of a federal civil judgment earlier this year stemming from an Internet scam.

The Idaho Statesman reports Kristy Marie Ross was a student and athlete at high schools in Boise and Eagle before becoming involved in an Internet scam in the early 2000s.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, she participated in an Internet scheme in which people were frightened into buying virus-protection software they didn't need. The verdict came in a judgment in September in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

"They scared millions of people," said Paul Spelman, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. "Do we expect to get the $163 million from her? No. What we try to do is get whatever we can from her."

Others involved in the business, called Innovative Marketing, have paid some $16 million in settlements. But Ross remains on the lam, possibly on the Caribbean island of Nevis.

Her former boyfriend, Sam Jain, is also an international fugitive targeted by the FBI's cybercrimes unit.

Ross' lawyer, Carolyn Gurland, has appealed the federal court verdict, claiming federal officials are targeting Ross unfairly.

The Chicago lawyer, who represented former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, said Ross is "one of the most amazing people I've ever been privileged enough to meet" - not the high-tech con artist whom the FTC alleges bilked thousands of Internet users for millions of dollars.

Ross was a young woman who worked hard to follow her boyfriend's orders and ended up becoming a victim herself, Gurland said, adding that problems developed when the company hired Ukrainian assistants who resorted to scare tactics that ultimately drew the scrutiny of the FTC.

"She was a baby - she had no idea what the hell these boys were doing," Gurland said. "She was just diligent and smart and hard-working. She tried to rein it in, but she couldn't do it all."

Innovative Marketing pushed advertisements that claimed users had hundreds of viruses or illegal files that needed cleansing and offered software for $39.95 or more. But installing the product didn't help; it gave the user more scareware ads, according to the FTC.

In the September verdict, U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett in Maryland wrote that Ross had much more control over the company than Gurland portrayed.

In a 29-page ruling issued Sept. 24, Bennett concluded "her expertise in marketing was touted by her partners and used to deceive and defraud a large number of consumers."