Eight charged in US over $45 million cyber crime on UAE and Oman banks

Fraudsters have stolen US$45 million from RAKBank and BankMuscat in one of the biggest cyber heists ever to hit the Middle East.

Fraudsters  stole US$45 million from RAKBank and BankMuscat in one of the Middle East's biggest cyberheists.
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An international crime gang has stolen US$45 million from RAKBank and BankMuscat, in one the biggest cyber frauds to hit the Middle East.

Eight alleged members of the syndicate’s cell in New York have been charged in the US with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering.

The crime network hacked into the systems of banks around the world, removed maximum limits for withdrawal at ATMs and stole details of pre-paid debit cards, said the US attorney’s office for the eastern district of New York.

“The stolen card data was then … used in making fraudulent ATM withdrawals on a massive scale across the globe,” the office said.

Prepaid cards are like debit cards, but instead of being linked to a bank account they have their own funds that are topped up like a prepaid mobile phone account.

The eight are accused of taking $2.8m (Dh10.2m) from hundreds of New York ATMs in a day.

Graham Honeybill, chief executive of RAKBank, moved to reassure customers.

“The amount of the potential loss was Dh17.4m and this was fully provided for before the bank closed its 2012 accounts,” he said.

“The bank can confirm none of its customers suffered any financial loss as a result of this fraud.

“We are given to understand that the overall fraud encompassed a number of banks, not only in the Middle East but in the US and other countries. The incident relates back to events in December 2012 and involved the bank’s service provider in India.”

RAKBank’s cards were compromised in December last year, allowing the criminals to make more than 4,500 ATM transactions in about 20 countries around the world.The bank, one of the biggest names in consumer banking in the UAE, lost about $5m to the fraud.The Omani lender BankMuscat was hit in February and alerted the public within days that it had lost $39m. But RAKBank has not previously released details of the loss.

“In the place of guns and masks, this cybercrime organisation used laptops and the internet,” said US attorney Loretta Lynch.

“Moving as swiftly as data over the internet, the organisation worked its way from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets of New York city, with the defendants fanning out across Manhattan to steal millions of dollars from hundreds of ATMs in a matter of hours.”

The gang laundered the proceeds through banks in Miami and with purchases of Rolex watches, a Mercedes SUV and a Porsche Panamera.

Seven of the eight people named in the complaint have been arrested. The eighth man charged, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena, the alleged ringleader of the cell who went by the aliases “Prime” and “Albertico”, was reportedly murdered in the Dominican Republic last month.

US authorities were able to make the arrests with the help of MasterCard, the two banks and authorities in 16 countries.

“If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment on each of the money laundering charges and 7.5 years on the conspiracy to commit access device fraud charge, restitution, and up to $250,000 in fines,” the US attorney’s office said.


* With Reuters