Gang blamed for credit card fraud losses nabbed

Four members of a south Florida-based criminal gang believed to have been responsible for more than US$75 million in credit card fraud losses have been arrested by the U.S. Secret Service.

More than 200,000 credit card account numbers, two pick-up trucks, about $10,000 in cash and one handgun were also recovered in connection with the gang's activity, according to a Secret Service statement Monday.

The gang was uncovered through an earlier investigation that involved the Secret Service's Miami and Nashville field offices. That probe targeted an individual named Julio Lopez, who used the screen name "Blinky" to traffic in counterfeit credit cards and stolen IDs for years over the Internet.

The Hialeah, Fla.-based Lopez and his girlfriend Anett Villar were arrested earlier this year, and an investigation into their activities led to the discovery of an organized fraud ring of Cuban nationals operating in south Florida, according to the Secret Service.

The agency alleged that the gang sent "large amounts" of money using E-gold accounts to cybercriminals in eastern Europe in exchange for "tens of thousands" of stolen credit card numbers. The numbers were then used to create counterfeit cards in several "plants" throughout the state.

"This case demonstrates the potential for online criminals to inflict significant damage on a global scale," special agent-in-charge William Sims, of the Secret's Service's Miami field office, said in the statement. But the arrests and the resulting indictments should also show law enforcement officials' determination to prosecute such crimes, he said.

Christopher Pierson, a partner at the law firm Lewis and Roca in Phoenix and a board member in the local chapter of the FBI's InfraGard security information-sharing program, said that the arrests show how cybercrime is becoming more profitable than the illegal drug trade.

"What this shows is the transnational nature of the crime," he said. "This is a crime that moves across borders and is worldwide and is hitting the U.S. very hard," Pierson said. It also highlights the highly decentralized way cybercriminals work with different gangs responsible for various aspects of the operation.

Considering the sophisticated supply chain that exists today for the creation and distribution of malware, it is no surprise that some elements profit from it, said Andrew Jaquith, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston, mass. "The fact that they found 200,000 cards doesn't surprise me. What surprises me is that they didn't find more," he said.

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