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Multimillion-pound phishing operation busted

Bank accounts around globe emptied; 38 arrests

Police have arrested the criminals behind one of the net's most sophisticated phishing scams, which saw millions of pounds stolen from bank accounts around the world.

US and Romania officers were behind the arrest of 38 individuals who used an array of technologies to trick web users in various countries into giving up details of their bank accounts. The criminals were then able to withdraw money from the victims' bank accounts using ATM machines.

According to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), the scam started in Romania where details from thousands of credit and ATM cards were stolen from individuals who visited a fake website. They were prompted to do so by a text messages sent to their mobile phones.

"We're confirming that you've signed up for our service. You will be charged $2 [about £1] per day unless you cancel your order on the following URL," prospective victims were told.

The website was used to cull details, which were quickly passed to US-based criminals using instant messaging. They used the information to imprint the data on to the magnetic stripes of manufactured cards. 'Runners' tested that the cards were working before using them at ATMs or point of sale terminals in shops.

The profits were banked by the US-based criminals, who make up most of the accused, but only after passing a portion back to their Romanian accomplices. Most of the names mentioned in the indictment were Romanian, but several Vietnamese, one Mexican, one Cambodian and a Pakistani individual were also named, underscoring the gang's multinational character.

The assumption is that using a Romanian-based SMS texting and fake server setup was intended to obscure the US-based involvement in the crime.

"Criminals who exploit the power and convenience of the internet do not recognise national borders. Therefore our efforts to prevent their attacks cannot end at our borders either," commented DoJ deputy attorney general Mark R Filip.

"International organised crime poses a serious threat not only to the US and Romania, but to all nations," he said.

If convictions follow, this case will mark a major success for the US authorities, who will have grappled with the immense complexity of tracking down the accused across jurisdictions. The official release noted co-operation between the FBI, the Romanian police, US Immigration , the US Postal Service and several local police departments.

"One of the things that doesn't get mentioned much when charges like this are made public is the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes gathering evidence," said Graham Cluley, a spokesperson for Sophos.

"Investigations like this aren't easy - there's a lot of evidence that needs to be gathered, surveillance and working closely with the financial authorities as well as other police forces spread across the globe. Investigations like this also don't come cheap, so it's good to see a high level of effort and resources being put into tracking down suspected criminals."


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