Eight charged in connection with high-tech US$45m bank heist

Authorities have arrested eight members of just one crime syndicate cell that used computers to conduct coordinated raids on ATMs around the world.

Eight people have been charged for forming part of a world-wide coordinated attack that resulted in the theft of US$45 million from ATMs.

According to officials, the alleged gang first hacked the computer systems of international corporations, then went throughout Manhattan, stealing millions of dollars from hundreds of automatic cash machines "in a matter of hours".

The first phase of the attack targeted prepaid debit card accounts, hacking in to eliminate withdrawal limits, thus freeing accomplices to raid the ATMs.

"What you have here is you've got backers. These are people who have got big money who are paying people to break into the bank systems, get the PIN numbers of debit card accounts, and so on — those are the hackers. So the backers pay the hackers. Then you go to the cashers, and the cashers — once the backers have paid the hackers, they've broken through — they've now gotten the PIN codes, and they've raised the limits on the accounts to be unlimited for withdrawal — the cashers go out," former FBI assistant director and CBS news senior correspondent John Miller told CBS This Morning.

"When they get the PIN numbers and the signals on their smartphones, they're told 'go'. In the case in New York, the New York cell went up and down Broadway, and in the course of two hours, took US$2.8 million out of ATMs from 116th Street to 23rd Street in a line."

Seven of the eight have been arrested, the US attorney's office says, while the eighth, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena, nicknamed "Prime" and "Albertico", is "reported to have been murdered on April 27".

La Nacion Dominicana reported that Lajud-Pena, who is accused of being the leader of the cell, was gunned down in his home by hitmen. The attack is believed to be a result of co-conspirers becoming disgruntled with how money from the heist was being distributed.

However, these alleged New York criminals only form part of a global crime ring responsible for just US$2.8 million of the total amount believed to have been stolen.

Miller said that there were probably a dozen or so members in the New York cell, with similar-sized cells in each of the 26 countries.

"The defendants and their co-conspirators participated in a massive 21st century bank heist that reached across the internet and stretched around the globe," US lawyer Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

"In the place of guns and masks, this cybercrime organisation used laptops and the internet."

Similar operations took place around the world in choreographed assaults carried out on December 22 last year and February 19-20 this year.

One such case in California last year saw 13 individuals charged by the FBI after it was believed they knocked off US$1 million from ATMs at several Nevada casinos within 60-second time periods that the machines were susceptible for.