Eight people will face criminal charges for allegedly running an international cybercrime ring and attempting to steal millions of dollars, according to an announcement made by United States government officials in New Jersey last month. Criminal attorneys in New Jersey report that federal prosecutors have accused the criminals, several of whom are from Ukraine, of hacking into more than a dozen financial institutions, as well as the U.S. military payroll service.
Oleksiy Sharapka, a 33-year-old from Kiev, was named as the alleged leader of the ring, and is still at large, along with Leonid Yanovitsky, 38, another Ukrainian national. Sharapka was deported from the United States in 2012 after he spent time in a federal prison in Massachusetts. He then began conspiring with the other members of the ring in a plot to steal almost $15 million from customer accounts at leading financial organizations, such as Aon Hewitt, Citibank, E-Trade, iPayment Inc, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Nordstrom Bank, PayPal, TD Ameritrade, and several others. The hackers also broke into the payroll database for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The ring members targeted electronic payment systems used by the financial institutions in an attempt to siphon millions of dollars from users. The federal prosecutors have indicated that most, but not all, attempts were blocked by the institutions’ safeguards. After the accounts were breached, the hackers sought to take control of the funds using prepaid debit cards, and ordering cards in the names of people whose accounts were violated. The criminals also filed fraudulent tax returns seeking refunds from the IRS, using stolen Social Security numbers.
According to the prosecution, the ring leaders employed crews known as “cashers” in locations across the country to withdraw the stolen money. The majority of the funds went to the leaders of the cybercrime ring, as well as the conspiracy leaders overseas. The eight accused members of the cybercrime ring are facing charges of wire fraud, money laundering, and identity theft, all of which carry strict penalties, criminal attorneys in New Jersey say. Four arrests have already been made, including key players in central locations—New York, Georgia, and Massachusetts.
In New Jersey, a person commits a third degree crime if he or she purposely accesses computerized information without permission to do so. It is also a third degree crime to share illegally obtained information, whether it is done intentionally or not. Unauthorized access covers trespassing within, communicating with, storing or retrieving data, and otherwise obtaining information contained on a person or company computer.
Instances of hacking are elevated to second degree crimes if the country is in a state of national emergency. Hacking into a database containing government records also constitutes a second-degree crime, and can be elevated if the hackers attempt to steal in excess of $5,000. The international scope of the cybercrime ring may amount to first-degree crimes for those involved.
The criminal attorneys at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, represent anyone facing criminal charges for cybercrimes, including hacking and fraud.