The UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) today arrested six men and six women from Eastern Europe suspected of laundering funds from bank accounts seized through phishing scams.
Assisted by officers from the National Crime Squad, the FBI and the US Secret Service, search warrants were executed at addresses in London (Bermondsey, Edmonton, Shepherds Bush, Stoke Newington, Streatham and Tottenham) and Ramsgate in Kent. Nationals from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and the Ukraine were arrested. Police seized computers, passports, chequebooks and bank cards. A quantity of crack cocaine was found in one address.
Scam emails that form the basis of phishing attacks commonly pose as 'security check' emails from well-known businesses. These messages attempt to trick users into handing over their account details and passwords to bogus sites. Typically, the fraudsters behind the 'phishing' scams are located outside the UK. Since they are unable to transfer money directly from a victims' online account overseas, UK intermediaries - or 'mules' - are hired.
Investigators allege the suspects were recruited by individuals close to Russian crime syndicates and persuaded to open up bank accounts into which the stolen money was placed. Cash was then transferred minus a 'commission', typically seven per cent, to Russia. Police are questioning the suspects this afternoon.
Detective Superintendent Mick Deats, Deputy Head of the NHTCU, said: "Organised Crime is targeting Internet users, and specifically Russian-speakers, in the UK to launder money stolen from online bank accounts where people have been duped into handing over their account details.
"We believe this gang has sent hundreds of thousands of pounds back to Russia. They have targeted a large number of high street and Internet banks, and because they are unable to break into the banks' systems themselves, they are resorting to duping account holders into parting with their details. This is a sophisticated operation involving false identities, and only by working together with the banking industry and other law enforcement agencies has this success been possible." ®