MANHATTAN (CN) – Thirty-six foreign exchange students are accused of participating in international identity theft and cybercrime rings. The students, all of whom were in the United States on exchange visitor visas, were recruited through social networking sites and newspaper ads, according to District Attorney Cyrus Vance. The defendants – from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus – stole more than $860,000 from 34 people and corporations, according to the six complaints.
Nineteen other people had previously been arrested and charged in related crimes.
Prosecutors said victims’ personal information was obtained through malware surreptitiously planted in their computers, allowing accomplices overseas to steal identification about the victims’ bank accounts.
The operation’s “money mules” then opened accounts at banks around Manhattan to receive the fraudulent transactions.
“This advanced cybercrime scheme is a disturbing example of organized crime in the 21st Century – high tech and widespread,” Vance said in a statement. “The masterminds used social networking sites and other methods to recruit students into their criminal enterprise.”
The 36 defendants are charged with identity theft, grand larceny or attempted grand larceny.