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10/29/2004
03:08 PM
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Secret Service Busts Cyber Gangs

Operation Firewall nets 28 suspects allegedly involved in online fraud and conspiracy.

The U.S. Secret Service Thursday announced arrests in eight states and six foreign countries of 28 suspected cybercrime gangsters on charges of identity theft, computer fraud, credit-card fraud, and conspiracy.

Dubbed Operation Firewall, the investigation was led by the Secret Service and involved both local and federal law-enforcement agencies in the United States, Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.

The 28 suspects are believed to have trafficked in at least 1.7 million stolen credit-card numbers, with losses to financial institutions of over $4.3 million. But it could have been worse. Estimates of potential damages if the gangs hadn't been broken up range into the hundreds of millions, the agency said.

"Information is the world's new currency," said W. Ralph Basham, director of the Secret Service, 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."

The suspects -- members of three groups identified as Shadowcrew, Carderplanet, and Darkprofits -- ran Web sites that trafficked in counterfeit credit cards and false IDs. The groups not only shared information on how to commit fraud, but also offered up tools for producing counterfeit cards and identification documents ranging from passports to birth certificates.

The yearlong investigation, started in mid-2003, is the third in as many months targeting organized cybercrime.

In August, the FBI seized computers in five states as part of Operation Digital Gridlock, the first federal action against criminal copyright piracy of movies, games, software, and music over peer-to-peer networks.

Also in August, the FBI's Operation Web Snare snapped up more than 150 suspects in a variety of cybercrimes, including spamming, identity theft, and hacking.

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