Global crime ring turns ATMs into gold mines

Officials say a 'virtual criminal flash mob' using hacked data and fake swipe cards made off with $40 million over 10 hours.

By Bruce Kennedy May 10, 2013 3:54PM

Person withdrawing cash © Image Source/Image Source/Getty ImagesThe following may sound like the script for a Hollywood crime film -- and who knows, it may soon become one. But remember, it's a real story.

At least seven people have been arrested in the U.S. and charged for their alleged parts in a worldwide criminal conspiracy that stole over $45 million from several financial institutions in a matter of hours as part of a massive cybercaper.

The Associated Press reports the operation involved thousands of smaller thefts from ATMs around the globe -- using phony magnetic swipe cards and information hacked from Middle Eastern banks.

Prosecutors in the ongoing investigation say there were two separate attacks, starting with one in December that brought in $5 million. The larger event in February, when the crooks made off with $40 million over a 10-hour period, involved about 36,000 ATM transactions.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch described the operation, one of the largest-ever cases of ATM fraud, as a "virtual criminal flash mob."

According to AP, here's how it went down:

The crooks hacked their way into the databases of the targeted financial institutions and got rid of withdrawal limits on some prepaid debit cards while creating new access card information. They downloaded that data onto plastic swipe cards -- using nearly anything with a magnetic strip, even hotel key cards.

Officials say the suspects then blitzed ATMs in more than a dozen nations, including the U.S., Japan, Russia, Romania, Egypt, Colombia, Britain, Sri Lanka and Canada. Members of the operation took a cut of the loot and then either laundered the plundered funds via high-cost purchases or shipped the cash back to the ringleaders in an undisclosed location.

Lynch said no individuals or business accounts lost money -- the suspects stole from banks that back up prepaid cards. The targeted financial institutions were identified as the National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah, or RAKBANK, in the United Arab Emirates and the Bank of Muscat in Oman.

Avivah Litan, a fraud and security analyst at info-tech research firm Gartner told AP some Middle Eastern banks and payment processors are "a bit behind" when it comes to the latest screening and security technologies. And while this current case may be historic in the amount of money taken, such ATM fraud schemes aren't new. "It's a really easy way to turn digits into cash," Litan said.

Oh, and here's a bit more melodrama to add to this story: Some of the New York-based crooks photographed themselves during the heists, posing with their ever-larger stacks of bills.

Prosecutors say the accused ringleader of the U.S. cell was killed in the Dominican Republic last month. According to, that suspect, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Peña, was shot down while playing dominoes. The hitmen reportedly left behind a manila envelope containing $100,000 in bills.

You can almost hear the screenplays getting cranked out.

More on moneyNOW

May 10, 2013 7:31PM
crooks rip off middle-eastern banks, using the same no-name cards group have been moving funds across borders??  Well played, Karma!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
May 13, 2013 6:27AM

As John Lennon wrote:


"Instant Karma's gonna get you
Gonna knock you right on the head
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you're gonna be dead"


I'm a bit glad that the banks being hit are all Middle-Eastern types, the kind of bank that supports enemies of our Country.






May 12, 2013 10:44AM

Ahhhh, the tangled webs we weave....And someone comes up with a bigger fly and "web wrecker".


I've warned about this for years, even decades.....We are fools.

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