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FBI busts global ‘phishing’ ring

FBI has arrested at least 33 people in the United States and overseas to crack an identity theft ring that victimized thousands of people.

Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles, says agents are making arrests Wednesday morning in Southern California, Nevada, North Carolina and overseas.

She says about 100 arrests are expected, many in the Los Angeles area.

Eimiller says an indictment accuses the suspects of running a “phishing” scheme. They allegedly used computer intrusion and fraud to obtain personal information that allowed them to withdraw money from bank accounts.

In “phishing,” people answering an e-mail are directed to a bogus Web site where they are asked to update personal information, such as passwords and account numbers.

“The FBI is both a law enforcement and national security agency, which means we can and must address every angle of a cyber case,” said FBI director Robert Mueller.

“This is critical, because what may start as a criminal investigation may lead to a national security threat. … At the start of a cyber investigation, we do not know whether we are dealing with a spy, a company insider, or an organised criminal group.”

In this case, money appears to have been the motive for the phishing gang. The FBI said that the gang accessed hundreds, and possibly thousands, of accounts and used them to transfer about $US1.5 million to bogus accounts they controlled.

Mueller said that it was both business and consumers’ responsibility to take care that they are operating securely online and said everyone should be using firewalls, anti-virus software, and strong passwords.

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