Yesterday feds busted a massive computer virus hacker ring including several money mules, such as Russian beauty Kristina Izvekova. The ring leaders contacted young women in the United States to open up various bank accounts and then transfer the stolen funds between accounts. Feds say that 22 year old Izvekova used a fake Greek passport to open a bank account at a TD branch in New York in July. She tried to pressure another student to do the same. Izvekova entered the country in June 2009 and reportedly left last month.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney announced charges against 37 defendants in 21 separate cases, for their roles in global bank fraud schemes that allegedly used hundreds of false name bank accounts. This was in order to steal over $3 million dollars from dozens of U.S. accounts that were compromised by malware attacks.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “The digital age brings with it many benefits, but also many challenges for law enforcement and our financial institutions. As today’s arrests show, the modern, high-tech bank heist does not require a gun, a mask, a note, or a getaway car. It requires only the Internet and ingenuity. And it can be accomplished in the blink of an eye, with just a click of the mouse. But today’s coordinated operation demonstrates that these 21st century bank robbers are not completely anonymous; they are not invulnerable. Working with our colleagues here and abroad, we will continue to attack this threat, and bring cyber criminals to justice.”
According to complaints unsealed today in a Manhattan federal court, the cyber-attacks began in Eastern Europe. The attacks included the use of a malware known as the “Zeus Trojan” which was typically sent as an apparently benign e-mail to computers at small businesses and municipalities in the United States. Once the email is opened the malware embedds itself in the victims’ computers and records their keystrokes. This includes their account numbers, passwords, and other vital security codes as they logged into their bank accounts online. The hackers responsible for the malware then used the stolen account information to take over the victims’ bank accounts and made unauthorized transfers of thousands of dollars at a time to receiving accounts controlled by the co-conspirators.
These receiving accounts were set up by a money mule organization responsible for retrieving the proceeds of the malware attacks and transporting or transferring the stolen money overseas. To carry out the scheme, the money mule organization recruited individuals who had entered the United States on student visas, providing them with fake foreign passports, and instructed them to open false name accounts at U.S. banks. Once these false name accounts were successfully opened and received the stolen funds from the accounts compromised by the malware attacks, the mules were instructed to transfer the proceeds to other accounts, most of which were overseas, or to withdraw the proceeds and transport them overseas as smuggled bulk cash.
As part of the coordinated takedown earlier today, federal and local law enforcement officers arrested 10 of the defendants. Another 10 were previously arrested. The defendants taken into custody in New York today are expected to be presented in a Manhattan federal court later this afternoon. Seventeen defendants are still being sought here and abroad.