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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

America Online Cuts Russia Due To Fraud

Russian users of the world's largest Internet service provider, America Online, have been cut off from direct access for over a week because of widespread credit card fraud on Russian-based accounts, a spokesman for the company said Monday.

Local access numbers in Russia have been listed as "currently unavailable" on AOL's international access directory since Dec. 14. As a result, Russia-based AOL account holders have only been able to access AOL's World Wide Web and electronic mail services via rival providers.

"We were made aware of fraudulent activity connected with credit card payments [in Russia]," said Susan Porter, of the AOL public relations department.

AOL, which has over 6 million subscribers worldwide, provides direct access to its services to Russian users via two telecommunications companies, SprintNet and Globalnet, both of which have shut down their AOL direct access numbers.

People using fraudulent credit card numbers would buy large blocks of time using access provided by the two phone companies, and AOL would get stuck with the bill.

"This could happen to us anywhere, but because local access is approximately three times more expensive [in Russia], the financial consequences have been very heavy," Porter said. She was not able, however, to say how many AOL account holders live in Russia.

Most AOL services are still accessible, but only if users subscribe to another network -- such as Glasnet, Russia Online or Matrix -- which can link them to AOL via a different, indirect routing on the Internet.

No official explanation for the AOL shutdown has been given to subscribers or posted on the AOL World Wide Web homepage or the company's online Press Releases section. A spokesman for GlobalNet said they had to shut down direct access "due to fraudulent use of our phone lines" in Russia.

"They [AOL] are currently conducting an investigation and will hopefully have it resolved as soon as possible," said the Globalnet spokesman. "We don't have a definite date, but we hope to have the system up again by the end of next week."

No warning had been posted in order not to tip off fraudulent "Most of the customers who use AOL [abroad] are American customers who have stayed loyal to AOL," he said. "We haven't been registering foreign customers for over a year because of this type of problem."

Credit card fraud on the Internet is an acute problem in Russia, according to Adam Rosenblatt, marketing manager of Matrix Technologies, a new Russia-based Internet service provider.

"It's no problem to get hold of credit card numbers. Fraud is tremendous here," said Rosenblatt. "The service provider gets defrauded because the user accounts don't get paid, and there is also fraud involved in ordering over the Internet.

"For instance," Rosenblatt added, "you can go to the L.L. Bean homepage and order whatever [you want] by credit card. Though that doesn't affect AOL directly, since it's just a channel for communication, the companies who have been defrauded may be putting pressure on Internet service providers to tighten up their controls."

Russia's new criminal code stipulates a prison sentence of between two and six years for "manufacturing false credit or payment cards for the purpose of fraud" (Article 187), but includes no provision for electronic or telephone fraud. A system of fines for "disruption and misuse of computer networks" is also included (Article 272), but again, there is no provision for fraudulent payment via computer systems.

Though AOL is not the most popular Internet service in Russia, many American users maintain AOL electronic mail accounts and use AOL for online shopping and banking, said Rosenblatt.