By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN — Federal and local prosecutors have charged more than 60 people, mostly Eastern Europeans in their twenties, in an international cybercrime ring that allegedly used spyware to access U.S. banks accounts.
The individuals charged, many of whom had "J-1" educational visas but were not really students, were recruited via job-wanted ads in a Russian newspaper and using social networks.
They allegedly used the "Zeus Trojan" spyware virus to gain access to victims' online banking passwords, information used to hack into accounts, prosecutors said.
The victims were duped by opening "benign-seeming" e-mails that appeared to be trustworthy, prosecutors said.
The investigation was a combined effort between the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan and District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.'s office.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called this kind of cyber theft the "21st century's variation on traditional bank robbery."
"The modern, high-tech bank heist does not require a gun, a mask, a note, or a getaway car," Bharara said. "It requires only the Internet and ingenuity."
The Manhattan DA's office charged 36 of the defendants with identify theft, fraud and grand larceny.
Many of the locally-charged defendants were involved in street-level transactions and had interactions with New York-based Chase Bank, Vance said.
Of the 37 individuals who were charged in federal court, 17 are fugitives. Fewer than ten of those charged by Vance's office have been apprehended and but 19 others were charged and arrested previously in connection to the same scheme.