Prosecutors in the United States said yesterday that they had filed charges against three men for hacking into the computer systems of major American retail and financial organisations and stealing data from 130 million credit and debit cards in the biggest such case of electronic identify theft ever seen.
The only named defendant was Albert Gonzalez of Miami. He and two Russian nationals were charged with wire fraud and conspiring to infiltrate the computer systems of a variety of companies including a Maine-based supermarket company as well as the 7-Eleven corner-store chain.
Officials said the ring intercepted the card numbers as consumers made purchases and fed them to servers in places as far away as Ukraine and California. Large numbers of the numbers were then sold online and used by their buyers to fraudulently buy goods.
It is claimed that the suspects visited retail locations to identify the type of checkout machines and systems being used. It is alleged that they then then uploaded information on to servers that worked as hacking platforms.
Mr Gonzalez, also known as "segvec", "soupnazi" and "j4guar17", is already facing an array of charges in the US connected to similar conspiracies to steal credit card data, notably from TJ Maxx, a competitor to Walmart in the US.
"This suggests there has been a group of individuals who have been successful in infiltrating the significant protection mechanisms at these companies," said Erez Liebermann, an assistant US attorney in the Justice Department's New Jersey office.