£600,000 internet fraud gang faces jail

A gang of internet fraudsters was facing jail today for using a sophisticated computer virus to steal £600,000 from bank customers.

Once the "malicious software" had infected their computers, it waited until users logged on to accounts, checked they had enough money and then insinuated itself into on-line cash transfer procedures.

As authentic looking screen pages appeared with NatWest's logo for "added authenticity", victims were encouraged to tap in their passwords, pin numbers and telephone numbers.

It also took care to quell possible suspicions by insisting the "additional security measures" had been introduced "to keep you secure".

But London's Southwark Crown Court heard nothing could have been further from the truth.

Dominic Connolly, prosecuting, said the Trojan virus used by the gang allowed account holders to continue with their normal transactions while secretly setting up new payee details.

He explained the next step was to rapidly siphon cash into so-called "mule" accounts under the gang's control.

Once there it was moved again, "much of it to Eastern Europe".

"Then a few days later, maybe a week, the unsuspecting bank customer will come to realise money is missing from his account," said counsel.

"In fact, as a result of this Trojan virus fraud very many people - 138 customers - were affected in this way with some £600,000 being fraudulently transferred.

"Some of that money, £140,000, was recouped by NatWest after they became aware of this scam," he added.

The court heard inquiries eventually led police to Uzbekistan national Azim Rahmanov and his home in Scawen Road, Deptford, south-east London.

When police searched the place they found a large amount of incriminating material, including bank cards for the accounts the gang had set up.

Despite further arrests and online efforts to block the virus, others still being hunted by police managed to carry out further internet raids.

Rahmanov, 24, denied one count of conspiracy to defraud and one of transferring criminal property between February 2 and April 9 this year.

He explained that his 25-year-old brother, Azamet and others - who lived with him and have admitted taking part in the scam - were to blame.

None of the incriminating material found on his laptop, on a phone and elsewhere in his room was anything to do with him, he added.

The seven-woman, five-man jury trying him took nearly nine hours to decide he was telling the truth and acquitted him on both counts.

Azamet Rahmanov and three co-defendants, who have variously pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and money laundering counts, will be sentenced on November 13.

After the case a NatWest spokeswoman emphasised: "Our online banking system was not compromised in any way; instead the Trojan software was installed by fraudsters onto vulnerable PCs without the owners being aware.

"The Bank identified this fraud in the very early stages and took action to protect other customers' accounts. We informed the Police Centralised eCrime Unit and assisted them with their investigation, and customers affected by this fraud have been refunded."

She added: "We recognise the sophistication of today's online banking Trojans and that's why we offer our customers free Trustee Rapport security software to protect against this type of fraud; 1.3 million customers are already using it to protect themselves online."

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