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Aussie crooks recruit teen phishing mules

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Phishing fraudsters have sunk to a new low in seeking to recruit Australian school and college students as "money mules". These hi-tech Fagins - Australia-based crooks with links to Russian and Malay crime gangs - have established a network of students able to funnel money from compromised accounts overseas. To date, 61 victims of the gang with combined illicit earnings of $600,000 have been identified, Australia's Daily Telegraph reports.

AFP reports that youngsters were typically paid between A$200 and A$500 a day for transferring up to A$100,000 a day for the syndicate. The gang used Trojan horse programs to record the passwords and keystrokes victims entered on banking websites reached via infected machines. This data is then surreptitiously transmitted to crooks, allowing their young accomplices to later empty bank accounts.

Once funds are siphoned from victims' accounts, middlemen (in this case Australian children) withdraw cash and use wire transfers to send it to their criminal bosses. AFP reports money is withdrawn "in sums of less than $10,000 from different bank branches". Teenagers handling this amount of cash would surely trigger suspicion, you'd think.

Indeed, 13 suspects - including four Sydney high school students, aged 15 to 17 - have already been arrested and charged over suspected involvement in the scam. One of the operation's alleged ringleaders, Derrick Cheng, 21, has pleaded guilty to obtaining money by deception and is due to be sentenced by a court in Burwood, New South Wales, on 12 January.

Fraud squad commander Detective Superintendent Col Dyson told the Daily Telegraph that crooks sought to prey on the naivete of youngsters.

"Word has gotten around on the grapevine that it's an easy way to make money... it may be a large amount to them but in the scheme of things it's a small amount compared to the actual funds that have been obtained," he said. New South Police are working with international banking authorities in efforts to recover the stolen money. ®

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