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12/20/2007
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Alleged Phishing 'Mules' Arrested

Fourteen ABN AMRO customers were recruited by cybercriminals to launder stolen bank account funds

Dutch authorities have arrested 14 ABN AMRO customers who allegedly let cybercriminals use their bank accounts to hide and transfer stolen money from other customers of the bank.

The 12 men and two women were paid for their "services" by the Russian and Ukrainian cybercriminals, but reportedly did not actually steal the information themselves. They instead acted as "mules," storing and eventually transferring the stolen money overseas to Russia and other countries.

The masterminds behind the scheme set up phishing Websites to dupe other ABN AMRO customers into visiting bogus ABN AMRO Websites. They then grabbed the victims' authentication information, accessed their accounts, and stole money from them. Several of the phishing sites were hosted on the notorious Russian Business Network's servers, according to reports.

"The Dutch police have sent a strong message to cybercriminals of all kinds -- any participation in this kind of illegal activity won't be tolerated. While these 14 suspects may not have actually carried out the phishing attacks themselves, they played a key role in the crime by allowing the fraudsters to use their bank accounts," said Mark Harris, global director of SophosLabs. "However, in these situations it can be tricky to prove the deliberate involvement of the account holder as it's quite easy for them to claim they're simply the victim of identity theft. These arrests represent an important step in the right direction and should deter anyone trying to earn a quick buck from engaging in this type of activity."

ABN AMRO has had multiple security breaches this year: A former employee in its Citi ABN AMRO Mortgage group unknowingly leaked Social Security numbers and other personal data on over 5,000 of its customers via Limewire, a peer-to-peer file-sharing network this fall, and in the spring, four of its customers were hit by a man-in-the-middle exploit.

Sophos, meanwhile, says cybercriminals are increasingly recruiting "ordinary" people outside their organizations to assist them in moving their illegally obtained funds around the globe.

Randy Abrams, director of technical education for ESET, says this is likely the tip of the iceberg. "While there are undoubtedly many extremely gullible people who become mules without having a clue as to what they are doing, there are plenty of people who have to know that money this easy must be illegal -- and choose to participate anyway," Abrams says. "The reason the cybercriminals use this tactic is simple -- the smart criminals don't want to get caught and know what steps they need to take to insulate themselves. The mules are the idiots who are crazy enough to think they just won't get caught."

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    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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