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$9m RBS WorldPay hack mastermind avoids jail

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The Russian hacker at the centre of a massive $9.4m fraud against RBS WorldPay has avoided jail after he agreed to turn informant on his fellow cybercriminals and pay compensation to the bank.

Viktor Pleshchuk, 29, of St. Petersburg, Russia, received a six year suspended sentence after agreeing to pay back 275m roubles ($8.9m) to RBS WorldPay and snitch on his erstwhile partners in crime, Bloomberg reports.

Crooks broke into the computer systems of RBS WorldPay in November 2008 and created counterfeit payroll debit cards using the data they stole. They also succeeded in increasing the daily withdrawal limits on compromised accounts and obtaining PINs needed to withdraw funds.

Foot soldiers were then recruited to cash-out the compromised accounts using more than 2,100 ATMs in at least 280 cities worldwide to withdraw $9m overnight in around 12 hours. Pleshchuk allegedly monitored the withdrawals in real-time before unsuccessfully trying to destroy evidence of the break-in.

Pleshchuk's lawyer, Yuriy Novolodsky, implausibly claims his client was unaware of the gravity of his offence. "This is not a regular crime but a cybercrime and Pleshchuk didn’t really have a full understanding of the damage he was causing," Novolodsky said, Bloomberg reports. "He pleaded guilty and is fully collaborating with authorities."

Local reports portray Pleshchuk as a hacker who played no role in organising the fraud, unlike US investigators, who put him at the centre of organising and commissioning the cyberheist.

Pleshchuk and seven other defendants have been charged in the US over the scam. However the Russian constitution has provisions that block extradition of its citizens, making it extremely unlikely that Pleshchuk will ever face a US trial over his crimes. Others implicated in the uber-fraud have not been so lucky.

Sergei Tsurikov, 26, of Tallinn, Estonia, was extradited to the US last month. ®

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