New York: More than 60 people in an eastern European-based cybercrime network were charged in the United States for using computer viruses to infiltrate US bank accounts, prosecutors said Thursday.
Federal prosecutors in New York said the defendants were “involved in a global cybercrime scheme that used the Zeus Trojan and other Internet viruses to steal millions of dollars from US bank accounts.”
The dozens of suspects were charged with crimes including bank fraud and identity theft in a scheme that allegedly moved at least three million dollars to hundreds of accounts set up by accomplices.
The charges followed Tuesday’s arrests of 19 people in Britain on computer crimes charges and were part of “a sweeping and coordinated effort to combat the 21st century’s variation on traditional bank robbery,” US Attorney Preet Bharara said in New York.
Victims included five banks and dozens of individual and business account holders, officials said.
“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 — at a distance of thousands of miles,” he said.
The alleged crime ring had hackers in eastern Europe using a “malicious computer program to obtain access to the bank accounts of small and mid-sized businesses and municipal entities in the United States,” according to the criminal complaints.
Zeus viruses infect computers when the user unwittingly clicks on a link or attachment in a seemingly legitimate email.
“Once installed, the Zeus Trojan allows computer hackers to secretly monitor the victim’s computer activity, recording, among other things, the victim’s bank account numbers, passwords, and authentication information,” the complaint said.
“In addition, individuals, known as ‘money mules’ or ‘mules,’ were recruited to open bank accounts in the United States, often with fake passports, but sometimes under their own names… to receive fraudulent wire transfers from the victim accounts,” the complaints said.
The “mules” were students visiting the United States from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said.
Mules opened bank accounts, sometimes under fake names, received money stolen by the hackers and made quick withdrawals “before the fraud could be detected by the victims or the banks,” the complaints said.
Mules typically kept up to 10 percent of the transfer as a payment and transferred the rest to the crime ring.
One of the suspected mules, a Russian named Yulia Klepikova, who went by a half dozen aliases including Tulus Corina-Jeromoise, opened a string of US bank accounts using fake Belgian, British and other passports, prosecutors allege.
She then allegedly withdrew tens of thousands of dollars in money that had been transferred to these accounts from the hackers’ victims.
“This advanced cybercrime scheme is a disturbing example of organized crime in the 21st century — high tech and widespread,” Vance said.