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ATM hacking spree foiled by tip from ex-con

Rick James look-alike apprehended

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A North Carolina man's scheme to steal as much as $350,000 during an automatic teller machine hacking spree was thwarted by an ex-convict, who turned the man in to authorities, federal prosecutors allege.

Thor Alexander Morris approached the Texas-based ex-con looking for help identifying the locations of specific models of ATMs that are known to be vulnerable to tampering, the prosecutors said in court documents filed late last month. With that information in tow, Morris allegedly planned to reprogram the machines to overpay him by changing the cash denominations from $20 bills to $1 bills.

It would appear Morris contacted the wrong man. Brian Rhett Martin turned over a CD containing chat transcripts, photos of Morris, and other evidence to FBI agents. He also put Morris in touch with a purported ATM thief named Leo, who in reality was an undercover FBI agent.

Wearing a wig fashioned after 80s pop star Rick James, Morris was arrested inside a South Houston market after unsuccessfully trying to hack the first of 35 targeted machines, prosecutors said.

The targeted ATMs contain a backdoor that gives unfettered administrative access to anyone who enters a simple series of keystrokes. Wired.com, which reported the arrest earlier, said ATMs manufactured by both Tranax and Triton are known to have the backdoor, though both have updated the firmware on newer machines to force owners to change the passcodes when the ATMs are first booted.

Morris allegedly planned to travel to locations throughout the Houston area where and reprogram their cash denominations. He then planned to use prepaid payment cards worth $410, authorities said.

The ATMs would then deliver $8,000 instead of $400. The remaining $10 was left over for banking fees.

To disguise himself, Morris allegedly "donned a long black curly hair wig" that he dubbed his "Rick James wig."

Morris has not yet entered a plea, according to court records. His attorney didn't return a phone call seeking comment. ®

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