Computer Crime Research Center


Police closing in on net phishers

Date: May 31, 2004
Source: STUFF
By: Richard Wood

Police believe they may be on to the gang responsible for online banking scams which ripped off New Zealand banks to the tune of $100,000 earlier this year.

Britain's Hi-Tech Crime Unit arrested 12 men and women in London this month on suspicion of defrauding bank customers and diverting money to a Russian crime gang.

New Zealand Police e-crime unit head Maarten Kleintjes can't confirm it is the same gang but says there are definitely links.

Details of the attacks on New Zealand banks are being forwarded to Europe to be used in the investigation.

Mr Kleintjes says he isn't aware of any admissions of guilt from the suspects.

Reuters reported they were seized along with computers, passports, cheque books, banks cards and crack cocaine.

He says the money trail from New Zealand goes to the countries they are reported as being nationals of – Estonia, Latvia, Russia, and Ukraine.

Phishing scammers attempt to persuade people to divulge passwords and user IDs over the web using e-mails that purport to come from reputable sources.

Victims are usually directed to fake bank websites where their online banking passwords are collected. The scammers subsequently transfer money to other accounts before sending it overseas.

Reuters says banks hit by phishing in Britain include Barclays, Lloyds TSB and NatWest. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are believed to have been remitted to Russia.

Mr Kleintjes says New Zealand authorities didn't play a role in apprehending the British-based suspects, but says police had extensive discussions about fraud and phishing with colleagues from Britain and Europe at the G8 High Tech Crime conference in Rome in March.

He says it is too early to know whether New Zealand Police might press charges against the suspects, or whether any money might be recovered.

Mr Kleintjes says local investigations into phishing scams will continue.

He says phishing attacks have not stopped since the arrest of the suspects in London and warns criminals are getting more sophisticated.

"There have been scams since and the arrests don't mean that we reduce our state of alertness."

British phishing scams appear to have involved the creation of false bank accounts which were used to forward money overseas.

New Zealand scams reported in April relied on "mules".

Kiwis were recruited to forward victims' money overseas in return for 5 per cent commission and were told they were working for a plasma TV screen company.

Mr Kleintjes says it's unclear what direction online fraud will now take.

Cases could remain isolated and stay "random" or criminals may get more organised.

Police hope banks will increase the security of online banking so New Zealand becomes less of a target.

Mr Kleintjes has called for the use of bank-issued "tokens" as well as passwords to identify online banking customers.

Other methods under consideration to foil scammers include sending single-use access codes to customers' cellphones after they key in their regular online banking password.

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