A Nigerian Anthony Nnamdi Okeakpu was among 36 individuals charged by the US Justice Department on Wednesday in connection with a massive online cyber crime ring that impersonated identities by stealing personal and financial information.
The alleged co-conspirators participated in an international cyber crime ring called Infraud, which facilitated the sale of stolen identities, credit card data, financial information, Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information through an online discussion forum. The operation was also used to sell and purchase malware.
Officials said that 13 of the defendants have already been arrested, including five Americans.
Okeakpu, a 29 year-old Nigerian based in the UK is alleged to have joined in December 2010 and have used the nickname “moneymafia”.
Other defendants include Svyatoslav Bondarenko, a Ukranian accused of having created Infraud in October 2010.
Five apprehended defendants are based in the US while others came from France, Canada, Pakistan, Russia Egypt, Italy and Macedonia among other countries
Officials estimate that the operation netted $530 million in illicit profits from financial institutions, consumers and other victims throughout the world over a seven-year period.
“We have victims in all 50 states and throughout the world,” Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Rybicki told reporters Wednesday. “It’s really a standout in terms of the amount of damage that it caused.”
Rybicki described the marketplace as “the one-stop shop for cyber criminals worldwide.”
According to the criminal indictment unsealed Wednesday, the Infraud organization was set up in October 2010 by a Ukrainian national. Through their investigation, officials identified over 10,000 individuals who traded and purchased personal information and other stolen data on the black market.
Officials made 13 arrests on Tuesday, which also included individuals from six other countries. Eighteen of the remaining defendants will need to be extradited to the United States in order to be apprehended.
The alleged criminals have been charged with racketeering and other crimes and face at least 20 years in prison each if found guilty. The online database enabled identity theft, wire fraud, bank fraud and other computer crimes.
The cyber crime ring take down was the result of a joint operation between the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada, the Justice Department’s criminal division and the Department of Homeland Security’s criminal investigations unit, with help from officials in several other countries. The case is being prosecuted by U.S. attorneys in Nevada.
“Today marks a significant step in the battle against transnational cyber crime,” Rybicki said.
The investigation into the cyber crime operation is still ongoing. Officials would not say whether the data trafficked on the forum has been linked to high-profile data breaches such as the hack of credit reporting firm Equifax disclosed last year.