It has been described as “a massive 21st-century bank heist” — a brazen cyber-theft with $45 million stole from bank ATMs using data hacked from financial companies in India and the U.S.
This week federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, unsealed a complaint against the individuals involved.
While regulatory attention again focused on the risks of outsourcing certain sensitive jobs in finance to India, U.S. authorities did not reveal the specifics of the Indian companies involved.
Prosecutors, however, confirmed that the thieves breached the cyber defences of an Indian firm that “processes credit card transactions for MasterCard debit cards issued by Rakbank, an institution in the United Arab Emirates”.
Among the eight men said to be involved, the seven who have been arrested and face charges include Jael Mejia Collado, Joan Luis Minier Lara, Evan Jose Peña, Jose Familia Reyes, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, Emir Yasser Yeje, and Chung Yu-Holguin.
The eighth man, ringleader Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña, is reported to have been murdered last month in the Dominican Republic, apparently during quarrels over how the spoils were to be divvied up.
There was no mistaking the “surgical precision of the hackers carrying out the cyber attack”, said U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch, emphasising the speed and coordination with which the operations were executed. In just over 10 hours, $40 million was siphoned off from ATMs in 24 countries involving 36,000 transactions, according to the complaint.
The gang increased or eliminated withdrawal limits for the bank accounts it hacked, enabling it to “withdraw literally unlimited amounts of cash”, the complaint said. In one transaction alone, nearly $150,000 in the form of 7,491 $20 bills was deposited at a bank branch in Miami, Florida, into an account controlled by ringleader Lajud-Peña.
To walk away undetected, the gang members then invested the proceeds in portable luxury goods such as expensive watches and cars, said officials. Authorities have, to date, seized hundreds of thousands of dollars, two Rolex watches and a Mercedes SUV. A Porsche Panamera was also being impounded.
Highlighting the global scale of the crime, Ms. Lynch said the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security had worked in concert with law enforcement authorities in Japan, Canada, Germany, Romania the United Arab Emirates, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Belgium, France, United Kingdom, Latvia, Estonia, Thailand, and Malaysia.
The complaint noted that if convicted, the defendants faced a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment on each of the money laundering charges.