Secret Service busts online organized crime ring

In what it called an "Information Age undercover investigation," the U.S. Secret Service Thursday announced that it has arrested 28 people from eight U.S. states and six countries allegedly involved in a global organized cybercrime ring.

Charges filed against the suspects include identity theft, computer fraud, credit card fraud and conspiracy.

The investigation, code-named Operation Firewall, resulted in what the Secret Service described as a significant disruption of organized criminal activity online that was targeting the financial infrastructure of the U.S. The suspects are alleged to have collectively trafficked in at least 1.7 million stolen credit card numbers.

Financial institutions have estimated their losses associated with the suspects targeted by the investigation to be more than US$4.3 million.

"Led by the Secret Service Newark Field Office, investigators from nearly 30 domestic and foreign Secret Service offices and their global law enforcement counterparts have prevented potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in loss to the financial and hi-tech communities," Secret Service Director W. Ralph Basham said in a statement. "These suspects targeted the personal and financial information of ordinary citizens, as well as the confidential and proprietary information of companies engaged in e-commerce."

Operation Firewall began in July 2003 and quickly evolved into a transnational investigation of global credit card fraud and online identity theft. The underground criminal groups have been identified as Shadowcrew, Carderplanet and Darkprofits. The organizations operated Web sites used to traffic counterfeit credit cards and false identification information and documents. The groups allegedly used the sites to share information on how to commit fraud and sold the stolen information and the tools needed to commit such crimes.

International law enforcement organizations that took part in the investigation and arrests included the U.K.'s National Hi-Tech Crimes Unit, the Vancouver Police Department's Financial Crimes Section, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Europol.

Officials in Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Ukraine also were involved.

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