ID theft gang thwarts police with encryption

ID theft gang thwarts police with encryption

Summary: A group of criminals have been jailed for an identity theft scam, but police admit they couldn't crack their computer records

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TOPICS: Security
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Three ID thieves have been jailed for their part in a massive data theft operation.

One of the ringleaders of the gang, Anton Dolgov — also known as Gelonkin — was sentenced to six years at Harrow Crown Court on Wednesday for his part in the theft of millions of pounds from victims in countries including the UK and the US.

The ID thieves used stolen credit card numbers and created false identities to buy high-end electronics and other goods, which they then resold on eBay.

The gang both pleaded and were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, obtain services by deception, acquire, use and possess criminal property, and conceal, disguise, convert, transfer or remove criminal property.

One of the gang members, Aleksei Kostap, was also found guilty of perverting the course of justice, and was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.

When the gang's premises were raided by the members of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), Kostap was handcuffed with his hands in front of his body. He managed to leap up and flick an electrical switch which wiped databases that could have contained records of the gang's activities stretching back more than ten years, SOCA claimed.

Kostap's action also triggered intricate layers of encryption on the gang's computer systems which SOCA's IT experts were unable to crack, the court heard.

SOCA was not prepared to discuss what encryption was used or why it was unable to decrypt it, as such information would enable other criminals to use the same methods.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which confirmed that Kostap had activated the encryption after being arrested, it would have taken 400 computers twelve years to crack the code.

Because much data was inaccessible to the police it is not known how much the gang profited from their operation, but it is believed that they made millions of pounds. Police were able to find evidence of £750,000 worth of transactions between 2003 and 2006, but the gang had been operating since the mid-nineties.

"The true scale of the gang's crimes will probably never be known," said a CPS spokeswoman.

Police became aware of the gang after a reported break-in at the gang's base of operations. When they raided the premises they found the gang hard at work at their computers, and arrested them.

"They were very busy when they were arrested," said the CPS.

Identify theft is a growing problem in the UK. Figures released by Sainsbury's Bank last week found that more than four million UK citizens have suffered financial losses through ID fraud.

The gang used fake identities, and falsified and forged passports to open bank and PayPal accounts, and sent the goods they purchased to residential addresses for later sale. They had already requested the mail be redirected from the addresses. Goods including Manchester United strips and cameras, which have a high resale value, were then auctioned on eBay.

The CPS told ZDNet UK that the gang also had data containing registries of births and deaths, council tax documents, electoral registration applications, and had 120 different cheque books in their possession.

"Fraud was their bread and butter," said a CPS spokeswoman.

There is an outstanding arrest warrant for another member of the gang, believed to be a ringleader. Known as Mr Kaljusaar, police have evidence of his involvement but as yet have no idea who or where he actually is, according to the CPS.

After the break-in at the gang's premises the police became aware of an outstanding international arrest warrant for Gelonkin/Dolgov in the name of Anthony Peyton, which had been issued after the arrest of gang member Andreas Furhmann by Spanish authorities.

Another gang member, Romanos Vasiliauskas, was jailed for eighteen months on Thursday.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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