Dutch police have broken a fraud ring which siphoned off money stolen from online accounts using real customers of the ABN AMRO bank hired for the purpose.

Thieves set up a series of bogus ABN AMRO websites, using them to lure real customers to reveal login details for their accounts. Armed with this information, monies were stolen, using the accounts of the accused to avoid arousing suspicion. Inter-bank transfers are viewed as less suspicious, a technique for avoiding detection until money has been transferred on.

A total of 14 customers of the bank in The Netherlands – known as 'mules' for their willing co-operation – are alleged to have allowed their accounts to be used as transit points for stolen money. Police have not said how much money was taken in the scam.

The fraud is also reported to have a partial connection with the infamous Russian Business Network, a large family of Russian and Ukrainian-based websites used for a variety of e-crime, but which suddenly disappeared from the Internet some weeks ago.

"The Dutch police have sent a strong message to cybercriminals of all kinds - any participation in this kind of illegal activity won't be tolerated," said Mark Harris of Sophos.

"While these 14 suspects may not have actually carried out the phishing attacks themselves, they played a key role in the crime by allowing the fraudsters to use their bank accounts."

He suggested that it might be difficult to prove that the individuals involved were not themselves victims.
"It can be tricky to prove the deliberate involvement of the account holder as it's quite easy for them to claim they're simply the victim of identity theft,” he said.

Typically, such willing participants would be paid for their trouble, so the police investigation will inevitably focus on tracing any unusual payments made to the accused.