Four charged in landmark UK phishing case

Eastern Europeans in the dock

Four eastern Europeans appeared in a London court yesterday charged with defrauding online banks of hundreds of thousands through an elaborate 'phishing' scam.

The two men and two women from Russia, Estonia and Ukraine are allegedly leading members of a gang that siphoned cash from ebanking accounts after conning consumers into handing over confidential banking details. Russian Olga Borissova, 31, Ukrainian Vitalij Kirilenko, 34, and Estonians Liiv Ravino, 30, and Teni Terje, 25, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud financial institutions and a single laundering charge at a hearing in Bow Street Magistrates Court. Bail was refused for all four. A preliminary hearing at Southwark Crown Court has been scheduled for 21 October.

Police are on the lookout for three other eastern European suspects, arrested as part of the same investigation, who have gone on the run. Officers from the UK's National High-Tech Crime Unit are leading the case, which it describes as "the first time in the world charges relating to phishing have been pressed" in court, the Financial Times reports.

Scam emails that form the basis of phishing attacks pose as 'security check' emails from well-known banks. These messages attempt to trick users into handing over their account details and passwords. The collected details are used to engineer fraudulent transfers. First seen in the UK approximately a year ago, phishing emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated, directing users to bogus websites which accurately reproduce the look and feel of legitimate sites. Industry organisation the Association for Payment Clearing Services (APACS) has noticed a reduction in growth of phishing and a greater use of malicious code (often including key logging and Trojan) components in fraudulent scams.

Earlier this month the banking industry launched a website (banksafeonline.org.uk) designed to warn consumers about the risk of phishing attacks. APACS reckons phishing scams have netted 2,000 UK victims over the last year resulting in losses of £4.5m. ®

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