In a crime story that sounds like an Internet update of the Italian Job, a gang of British teens have admitted being behind an online forum that stole and marketed stolen credit card numbers and bank details worth an estimated £12 million ($18 million).
The main admin of the forum, Ghostmarket.net, is said to have been Nicholas Webber, who was 18 at the time of his arrest in 2009 after he tried to pay a £1,000 hotel bill in London using stolen details.
After his arrest with an alleged accomplice, 18-year old Ryan Thomas, police examined his laptop and found 100,000 UK and US credit card numbers. The pair subsequently jumped bail before being re-arrested at Gatwick Airport in January 2010, after flying back to the UK from Spain.
Webber and Thomas have now pleaded guilty to running the forum, while a third, Gary Kelly, 20 at the time of the crimes, has admitted culling numbers from botnet PCs infected with the Zeus banking password-stealing Trojan. Two other defendants in their early twenties have pleaded guilty to acting as money mules.
The true extent of the losses caused by Ghostmarket.net remains unknown but could reach the £12 million figure being bandied around by police. That includes £8 million said to have been taken from bank accounts as part of a forum that sold UK account details for £5, EU ones for £3 and US ones for £2 each.
“You are all very young and very intelligent people and it's a tragedy to see you in the dock,” said an exasperated Judge John Price at Southward Crown Court. “You used your enormous skills and education in what looks like an enormous conspiracy to defraud and steal people's credit cards and bank accounts.
The trail of accused e-criminals grows longer through Southwark crown Court, which this week saw the sentencing of a Scottish man found guilty of distributing botnet and surveillance malware to 18 months in prison.
Are such sophisticated crimes becoming more common? More likely, they are simply being detected more often with police taking a hard line.
Webber and Kelly will be sentenced on 28 February next year and were warned in advance that they face significant prison time for what counts as unusual crimes by UK standards.