At least 24 people have been arrested in the United States and abroad in a US-led sting operation targeting cyber criminals buying and selling stolen credit card information, officials said Tuesday.
US Attorney Preet Bharara said the probe uncovered "a breathtaking spectrum of cyber schemes and scams" spread across the United States, Canada and 11 other countries in Europe and Asia.
The two-year investigation dubbed “Operation Card Shop” began in June 2010 when the FBI set up an online carding forum called Carder Profit.
The FBI monitored and recorded communications on the forum as well as private messages sent through the site between registered users. The FBI also recorded IP addresses of users who accessed the forum.
The operation targeted "sophisticated, highly organized cyber criminals" involved in selling stolen identities and credit cards along with fake documents and sophisticated hacking tools, said Janice Fedarcyk , the FBI's assistant New York chief.
Eleven people were arrested in the United States and 13 others arrested overseas, in seven different countries, the prosecutors' statement added.
Six people were arrested in Britain, two in Bosnia, and one each in Bulgaria, Norway and Germany on charges in those countries.
Two others were arrested Tuesday in Italy and Japan based on provisional warrants obtained by the US in connection with charges unsealed in New York.
Co-ordinated global arrests
Bharara said those accused in the scheme "sold credit cards by the thousands and took the private information of untold numbers of people," while offering "every stripe of malware and virus to fellow fraudsters."
"As the cyber threat grows more international, the response must be increasingly global and forceful," said Bharara, who is the US federal attorney for the Southern District of New York.
"The co-ordinated law enforcement actions taken by an unprecedented number of countries around the world today demonstrate that hackers and fraudsters cannot count on being able to prowl the Internet in anonymity and with impunity, even across national boundaries," he said.
Because the FBI was able to warn those affected by compromised accounts, the operation "prevented estimated potential economic losses of more than $205 million," a statement by prosecutors said.
The FBI was also able to notify the credit card providers of more than 411,000 compromised credit and debit cards, and 47 companies, government entities, and educational institutions that their networks had been breached.
Law enforcement agencies in Britain, Australia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Macedonia and Norway took part in the investigation, the US officials said.
Of the 11 held in the US, two are minors.
One of those arrested, Mir Islam, who uses the name "JoshTheGod," claimed to be a member of UGNazi, a group that has claimed credit for numerous recent online hack attacks, and a founder of Carders.Org, a carding forum on the internet. Officials said he had information for more than 50,000 credit cards.
The FBI said it seized the web server for UGNazi.com, and seized the domain name of Carders.org, taking both sites offline.