Dozens of people in four continents have been arrested in an elaborate sting targeting a black market for online financial fraud, federal officials in New York say.
The crackdown in United States, Europe, Asia and Australia capped a two-year FBI investigation of hackers who steal credit card, bank and other financial information on the internet - a practice known as "carding."
The arrests "cause significant disruption to the underground economy and are a stark reminder that masked IP addresses and private forums are no sanctuary for criminals and are not beyond the reach of the FBI," Janice Fedarcyk, head of the FBI's New York office, said.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed on Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan, the suspects bought and sold hacking programs and stolen information via secure websites.
In June 2010, undercover investigators set up their own web forum "as an online meeting place where the FBI could locate cybercriminals, investigate and identify them and disrupt their activities."
The complaint charges one alleged hacker using the name OxideDox with fraud. Undercover agents bought stolen data about 15 American Express, MasterCard and Discover accounts from the defendant, the complaint said.
In one instance, an undercover investigator delivered a digital camera as payment to the defendant for one of the stolen information "dumps," the complaint adds. When the agent later asked the defendant in a chat if he liked the camera, the defendant responded, "A different model ... would have been better, but hey, a free camera is a free camera."
The registration process for the bogus website required unwitting users "to agree to terms and conditions, including that their activities on the site were subject to monitoring for any purpose," the complaint says.
Officials estimated that the operation prevented hundreds of millions of dollars in thefts of individuals and institutions.