As part of the scam, millions of phishing messages were sent out using automated programmes, authorities said.

According to the indictment, hackers in Egypt worked with cohorts in the US to collect bank account information, then illegally accessed those accounts and transferred money to newly created fraudulent accounts.

'Common greed'

The Associated Press quoted an assistant US attorney as saying all the US suspects had been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, which potentially carry up to 20 years in prison.

Some suspects, including a man named Kenneth Lucas, the alleged ringleader, face additional charges including bank fraud and international money laundering.

Lucas was awaiting an initial court appearance on Wednesday and authorities were unsure if he had been assigned a defence lawyer.

"The sophistication in which these defendants operated, represents an evolving and troubling paradigm in a way grand theft, and identity theft is now committed," said Keith Bolcar, the acting assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles.

"Those arrested today are suspected to have operated at various levels of the scheme, but they all share a common greed and willingness to victimise Americans."

The amount of cash stolen was said to be between one and two million dollars, primarily from Bank of America and Wells Fargo accounts.

Federal authorities in Los Angeles praised the co-operation they received from Egypt, and said the indictment represented the largest identity-theft operation ever in terms of the number of defendants.