Teenagers accused of running cybercrime ring

Five people have appeared in court over charges of involvement in a crime forum called GhostMarket.net, which traded credit card details and cybercrime tutorials
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

Five people accused of involvement in a UK-based online crime forum have appeared in a London court.

Prosecutor Matthew McCabe told City of Westminster Magistrates' Court on Friday that 18-year-olds Nicholas Webber and Ryan Thomas had been involved in the management of a crime forum called GhostMarket.net.

Webber is accused of administrating the forum, which McCabe said offered its 8,000 global members a place to trade stolen credit card details, malware, access to online bank details and tutorials in various cybercrime techniques including hacking, spamming and phishing. The forum also included instructions for making bombs and crystal meth.

Thomas is accused of moderating and being responsible for the day-to-day running of the forum.

Webber and Thomas were arrested in October 2009 in a high-end central London hotel on suspicion of trying to pay a bill of approximately £1,000 with a compromised credit card. The prosecutor said that when Thomas was arrested, he was in possession of a Sony notebook which allegedly linked the pair of suspects to GhostMarket.net. Webber allegedly had business cards on him which said 'N2C AKA Webber'. The alleged administrator of GhostMarket.net was known as 'N2C'.

Thomas and Webber were bailed to appear at Belgravia police station in December, but failed to turn up, said McCabe. The pair had gone to Palma in Majorca in October, but were arrested on 31 January at Gatwick airport when returning to the country on their passports, and a laptop computer was seized by police.

The Metropolitan Police Central eCrime Unit (PCeU) allegedly found over 100,000 credit card details on the seized laptop, which McCabe said could have resulted in up to £12m in losses to credit card companies. Police then seized further computing equipment and memory sticks from the pair, which allegedly offered further evidence that they were involved in GhostMarket.net, and also implicated another individual, 21-year-old Gary Paul Kelly.

Webber and Thomas were bailed in January on condition that they didn't use the internet, but they allegedly continued operating GhostMarket.net, storing proceeds in the online Liberty Reserve, which is based in Costa Rica. They also enquired into obtaining false passports online, and made a bomb threat against the person they believed headed the e-crime unit, said McCabe.

Kelly was accused on Friday of hosting GhostMarket.net and maintaining an IRC server called FastUnix.net, which allowed the exchange of goods and services on GhostMarket.net.

A search warrant was executed on Kelly in November 2009 in connection with his suspected involvement in building a Zeus data-stealing botnet which sent stolen data to a server called TotalUnix.net. Kelly is accused of running the botnet.

Also appearing in court in connection with the GhostMarket.net case were 20-year-old Shakira Riccardo and 21-year-old Samantha Worley. Riccardo was accused of participating in the forum, and Riccardo and Worley are accused of handling proceeds from the forum through two Halifax building society accounts.

The police investigation was called Operation Pagode, PCeU officers told ZDNet UK on Friday.

The magistrate presiding over the case ruled that Webber and Thomas be remanded in custody until a crown court appearance. Kelly, Riccardo and Worley were given bail. All five will appear before a judge at Southwark Crown Court on the morning of the 5 October for the beginning of a trial.

Two teenagers were arrested by appointment at a central London police station in June in connection with an online crime forum.

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