Three arrested in first internet bank robbery

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The Independent Online

Organised criminals are believed to have carried out the first internet "bank robbery", stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Organised criminals are believed to have carried out the first internet "bank robbery", stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The online bank Egg, which has 1.2 million customers, is understood to be the target of the professional hackers. Understood to be part of a organised crime syndicate, the hackers are believed to have removed several hundreds of thousands of pounds from Egg, which is owned by Prudential.

If the fraud is confirmed it will send shock waves through the Internet banking world, whose security has already been questioned after a string of online security lapses that have hit several major companies, including Barclays. If the online robbery is proven it will also be the first time hackers have managed to remove money from a bank.

Details of the cyber break-in remained vague last night, but the criminal hackers are not believed to have taken money from individual's accounts.

The suspected fraud came to light after officers from the National Crime Squad carried out a series of early morning raids at seven homes mostly in the Milton Keynes area in Buckinghamshire yesterday. Three men in their 30s were arrested and were being questioned by police last night.

Computer equipment and documents were taken from addresses in Lidlington, Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Pottersbury, Northamptonshire, and Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire. A small quantity of drugs and cash was also seized.

The 7am raids, codenamed Operation Skoda, followed a six month inquiry by the National Crime Squad into internet banking fraud. They were assisted by computer experts from a civilian consultancy company.

Detective Sergeant Mick Randall, who led the operation, said: "This has been a very complex investigation involving organised criminals who we believe have been using the internet as a medium for committing serious crime and for targeting the relatively new internet banks."

A NCS spokesman added: "They were professional in their approach. Our concern is that this is not the only attempt to infiltrate Internet banking. We believe it is an attempt by organised crime to exploit a new area that could be worth millions potentially.

"They got away with some money. It was substantial but not huge amounts. It is the first case of internet banking fraud that we have dealt with. This is an area we are beginning to expand into as organise criminals move into hi-tech crimes."

Egg was the first internet bank to operate exclusively via the electronic highway and the telephone. It was an instant success and has quickly attracted hundreds of thousands of customers and has spawned scores of rivals. Egg floated earlier this year and has just launched an insurance arm. A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment.

Concern about the rise in hi-tech crime has prompted the Home Office to set up a new squad to tackle the problem, which will include officers from the NCS, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, Customs and the Serious Fraud Office.