Brazilian authorities have arrested the head of a phishing gang alleged to have stolen millions of dollars from online bank accounts.

Valdir Paulo de Almeida is said to have been part of a gang of 18 people who targeted Brazilian and foreign online banking customers with e-mails that caused their PCs to be infected with a Trojan keylogger. In classic style, they were then able to monitor infected PCs when real websites were accessed, stealing passwords and login names.

According to the police, the fraud was successful enough to allow the gang to steal between 50 and 100 million Rials, equivalent to up to $37 million, over the course of the last two years.

Brazilian state sources were quoted as saying that the gang was reckoned to be one of Brazil’s largest and most active. They were suspected of sending out up to 3 million e-mails to a day through which Trojan infection could be initiated.

Brazil has recently become a hot-spot for phishing crime. Last October, police arrested 53 people on suspicion of having defrauded online bank accounts of $30 million. It has even been suggested that the amount of money lost through Internet financial fraud now exceeds that from conventional bank robbery in the country.

Despite this, Brazil has also been criticised for lacking strong laws to discourage the wave of complex online frauds launched within and from the country.