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Cybercops seize Russian extortion masterminds

Three online blackmail suspects cuffed

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Three men suspected of masterminding a cyber-extortion racket targeting online bookies were arrested yesterday in a joint operation between the UK’s National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and its counterparts in the Russian Federation. The trio, who investigators reckon netted hundreds of thousands of pounds from the cyber shakedowns, were picked up in a series of raids both in St Petersburg, and in the Saratov and Stavropol regions in southwest Russia.

The alleged cyber-extortions took place following Denial of Service (DOS) attacks directed against the websites of many online bookies. These attacks bombarded bookies' servers a tidal wave of spurious and malicious traffic, effectively shutting down their online operations and costing millions of pounds in lost business.

The gang followed up the attacks with email demands, asking for money to be handed over in order to prevent further assaults for at least for a year. Bookies in the UK have been subject to attacks and demands for money since October 2003, and officers from the UK’s National Hi-Tech Crime Unit have been working closely with their Russian counterparts to track down and arrest the criminals.

Detective Chief Superintendent Len Hynds, Head of the NHTCU, said: “The success of this operation is built on the foundation of international partnerships between law enforcement and business. The more we work together in the fight against organised crime, the safer the UK will be for business.

“Thanks to the response of all the parties involved, we have helped to dismantle a determined group of organised criminals. The clear message we are sending is that if you attack firms based in the UK, we will find you and stop you,” he said.

In Russia, the NHTCU has worked closely over many months with the Investigative Committee attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the MVD’s computer crimes specialist department. Support from HM Customs & Excise’s overseas liaison offices in Russia, the Central Asian Republics and the Baltic States was also crucial to the investigation. This investigation was also assisted by law enforcement and government agencies from Australia, Canada, Estonia and the USA, as well as from businesses in the UK and abroad.

As part of the investigation, 10 members of the gang were arrested in Riga, Latvia, in November 2003. Following these arrests, officers were able to identify the financial trail which led to the gangsters arrested yesterday in Russia. ®

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