A 23-year-old man who has pleaded guilty for his role in a phishing scam that targeted AOL users, now faces up to seven years in prison.

"[We] are committed to investigating and prosecuting Internet phishing and other identity theft schemes that wreak havoc on the lives of their victims," US Attorney Kevin O'Connor said in a statement.

Michael Dolan, of West Haven, Connecticut and North Miami Beach, Florida, admitted to his part in a ring of phishing scammers who duped AOL subscribers into divulging names, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security account numbers and other private information.

From 2002 through 2006, Dolan and others used software to harvest AOL account names from the service’s chat rooms, then sent messages posing as electronic greeting cards that in actuality were transporting Trojans that infected recipient’s PCs. Once installed, the Trojan blocked access to AOL until the user entered items including credit card and bank account numbers in an on-screen form. The stolen account information, combined with other personal data, was used to order goods over the Internet, as well as to crank out counterfeit debit cards used at ATMs to clean out accounts.

Dolan’s sentencing is scheduled for 14 November, at which time he’ll face up to five years on the conspiracy charge and a mandatory two-year sentence on the identity theft charge.

According to Tom Carson, spokesman for the US Attorney O'Connor in Connecticut, under the plea agreement struck between his lawyer and federal prosecutors, Dolan will likely be sentenced to the full seven years and be required to pay a fine of up to $30,000.

"He is a repeat offender," said Carson, noting that Dolan was sentenced to two years probation in May 2004 - Dolan was then just 20 - on a single misdemeanour count of accessing a computer without authorisation. Six months of that two years was spent in home confinement, according to filings in the federal court in New York that was then handling Dolan’s case.

In 2006, however, Dolan was sentenced to nine months of jail time after violating that parole by travelling out of state, and in one case, out of the country, without permission.

Dolan was one of six men charged with fraud in September 2006. Four of the others had previously pleaded guilty, but none, said Carson, has yet been sentenced. Only one defendant, Daniel Mascia, 23, of West Haven, Connecticut, still awaits trial.