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Foiled – gang that tried to 'download' a bank branch's entire funds

'Audacious' cyber-criminals try to steal millions by remotely accessing Santander Bank computers

A criminal gang has been foiled in its attempt to steal millions of pounds without anyone realising a bank job was actually taking place. A bogus telephone engineer walked into a south London branch of Santander on Thursday and tried to fit a device to a computer that would have allowed the gang to remotely operate the computer and potentially siphon off millions.

But it appears that the bank and police knew about the plot and the bogus workman was being tracked in an apparent sting operation after he spent an hour inside the branch. He left without fitting the device.

Twelve men, aged 23 to 50, have been arrested in London for alleged conspiracy to steal from the bank in what police said was an “audacious” plot that could have seen the gang view the entire contents of the desktop computer. It was not clear today if the bogus engineer was allowed through security to the non-public area of the bank.

Using a keyboard video mouse – standard kit for IT experts to ensure the smooth-running of networks – the gang intended to wait until someone logged on, then used their identity to break through the bank’s cyber security when the worker took a break from the screen, according to experts. No member of staff was involved in the alleged plot.

The police and bank said that no money was stolen but the branch at Surrey Quays was closed yesterday as customers scrambled to check their accounts. Some said they would switch banks because of the potential for a security breach. Detective Inspector Mark Raymond, from Scotland Yard’s Police Central e-crime Unit (PCeU), said: “This was a sophisticated plot that could have led to the loss of a very large amount of money from the bank and is the most significant case of this kind that we have come across.”

A number of addresses were also searched and property seized said police. The attempt is likely to have been caught on CCTV cameras at the branch.

A bank spokesman said: “Santander was aware of the possibility of the attack connected to the arrests. The attempt to fit the device to the computer in the Surrey Quays Branch was undertaken by a bogus maintenance engineer pretending to be from a third party. It failed and no money was ever at risk.”

However, concerned customers yesterday used ATM machines to check whether funds were still in their accounts. One woman, who identified herself as Sally, 38, from Rotherhithe, said she would consider taking her money out. “A couple of years ago I had my card cloned at a hole in the wall and £600 stolen. I’m definitely thinking of moving bank. It doesn’t feel safe to leave all my money in there any more after this.”