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Phishing bust nets 100 in US, Egypt

Bloomberg News / October 8, 2009

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LOS ANGELES - The United States and Egypt have charged 100 people with illegally obtaining personal bank account information from Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. customers and stealing money from their accounts.

Fifty-three people were charged in the United States, and 47 were charged in Egypt, the FBI said yesterday.

The operation, dubbed Phish Phry, was the biggest US cybercrime investigation to date, with the most defendants in a computer crime case, according to a prepared statement from the FBI.

The Egyptian defendants are accused of obtaining account numbers and personal information from US bank customers through “phishing,’’ in which official-looking e-mails steer consumers to fake bank websites, where they are asked to provide personal information.

The Americans who were charged are accused of setting up bank accounts to which their Egyptian counterparts transferred money from the hacked accounts.

“The sophistication with which Phish Phry defendants operated represents an evolving and troubling paradigm in the way identity theft is now committed,’’ Keith Bolcar, acting assistant FBI director in Los Angeles, said in the statement.

“Criminally savvy groups recruit here and abroad to pool tactics and skills necessary to commit organized theft.’’

Each of the 53 defendants indicted in Los Angeles is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud, which carries a prison sentence as long as 20 years, according to the statement. Thirty-three of the 53 were arrested yesterday, the FBI said.

Spokesmen for Bank of America and Wells Fargo did not immediately return calls seeking comment.