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12/19/2011
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Feds Indict 55 For Cyber Crime Fraud

Crime ring recruited insiders to steal personal information on hundreds of people, which they used to open fake accounts and steal money.

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Federal authorities Friday announced the indictment of 55 people for participating in a cyber crime fraud ring that relied on insiders to steal hundreds of people's personal details from a bank and a car dealer, among other organizations. The stolen information was then used to defraud both the victims, as well as the organizations at which the insiders worked.

"These insiders used their positions to gain access to client data, and then sold that data to make money for themselves and their accomplices," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., in a statement.

All told, the various defendants--charged in five separate indictments--stole information relating to 200 people or organizations, and in many cases used the stolen information more than once. Authorities have accused the defendants of stealing more than $2 million just from financial institutions, including American Express, Chase Bank, Citibank, Discover, and TD Bank. The charges relates to crimes allegedly committed between May 2010 and September 2011.

[ Law enforcement is becoming more aggressive when it comes to cyber crime. Read California Forms Cyber Crime Unit. ]

Authorities said the arrests were part of an 18-month investigation, which remains ongoing. During the course of that investigation, the New York Police Department's Financial Crimes Task Force, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, as well as investigators from other agencies, including the U.S. Postal Service, employed "court-ordered eavesdropping, physical surveillance, computer forensics, and extensive analysis of credit card, banking, and phone records" to trace the crimes back to the accused.

"The checks didn't bounce but they left a bread crumb trail right back to the suspects," said N.Y. Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, in a statement.

According to court documents, members of a cyber crime ring recruited "at least four insiders to steal, sell, exchange, and fraudulently use the stolen personal identifying information of donors, customers, and tenants from the organizations where they worked."

According to court documents, the insiders worked for four different organizations. The insider at the Audi dealer, Roberto Millar, allegedly stole personally identifying information on at least 900 people. Tracey Nelson, a three-year employee of the non-profit United Jewish Appeal-Federation (UJA), allegedly stole personal data relating to hundreds of donors. Nicola Bennett, a compliance officer for AKAM Associates, a residential property management company in New York, is accused of stealing information relating to at least a dozen people. Finally, Karen Chance, a bank teller at a branch of Chase Bank, has been accused of illegally accessing multiple people's bank account details.

According to court documents, after the insiders sold the stolen information to the cyber crime ring, the ring either put the information to use itself, or sold it to other criminals, who used it to create counterfeit checks and commit various other types of fraud. To do so, however, the defendants needed to obtain "valid bank accounts through which the recruiters and their confederates could commit fraud," said authorities. "The recruiters would use their accounts to deposit counterfeit checks or conduct fraudulent monetary transfers."

To make this happen, the cyber crime ring allegedly also recruited two Chase Bank tellers--Mercy Adebandjo and Joanna Gierczack--who helped the thieves conduct fraudulent transactions, while avoiding the bank's anti-fraud and anti-money laundering controls.

Meanwhile, to facilitate rapid withdrawals from the valid bank accounts they'd obtained, the cyber crime ring would allegedly often purchase U.S. Postal Service money orders, using debit cards linked to the accounts. The gang also relied on counterfeit check makers--with payments made out to the owners of the improperly obtained accounts.

In some cases, defendants allegedly used the stolen information to change the contact details for credit cards to an address where one of the defendants, Richard Ramos, a United Parcel Service employee, could intercept the mailings. He then allegedly provided the cards to other defendants, in return for money.

Authorities have also accused some of the defendants of using the stolen personal information to order credit reports for those people. These reports, they said, gave the defendants crucial details for helping to answer security questions when they then attempted to open new accounts or credit cards in the victims' names.

Database access controls keep information out of the wrong hands. Limit who sees what to stop leaks--accidental and otherwise. Also in the new, all-digital Dark Reading supplement: Why user provisioning isn't as simple as it sounds. Download the supplement now. (Free registration required.)

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Tom LaSusa
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Tom LaSusa,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/19/2011 | 7:59:14 PM
re: Feds Indict 55 For Cyber Crime Fraud
Whatever the sentences/punishments are for cyber criminals, frankly I don't think they are enough. People spend years trying to undo the damage done to their credit and reputation, often with little success. There needs to be the threat of serious jail time in order to deter this activity.

Tom LaSusa
InformationWeek
Bprince
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Bprince,
User Rank: Ninja
12/19/2011 | 11:16:38 PM
re: Feds Indict 55 For Cyber Crime Fraud
I think the use of insiders here is particularly troubling. There was another bust not too long ago that involved insiders working in retail establishments stealing credit card information so that another part of the operation could make fake cards. Makes me wonder if there is more retail businesses should be doing as far screening potential employees and detecting malicious behavior than they are currently.
Brian Prince, InformationWeek/Dark Reading Comment Moderator
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