British police have arrested four people suspected of being involved in a phishing attack in which £1 million ($1.6 million) was stolen from customers of two UK banks.
According to the Metropolitan Police’s Cyber Crime Unit (MPCCU), the arrests of two men and two women aged between 24 and 31 happened on 10 December from addresses in London, yielding £80,000 in cash, items of jewellery, a Range Rover car as well as the usual haul of smartphones and computers.
Very unusually, the police also recovered a usable hand grenade (possibly a Soviet F-1 design or a Chinese copy), alarming pictures of which accompanied the police announcement. Alleged phishing gangs are nothing new but ones armed with weapons as dangerous as hand grenades are a first for UK cybercrime.
Police haven’t said when the phishing attacks happened, nor how many people were victims, but described the arrests as having happened after an “intelligence-led” operation conducted with the co-operation of banks. That is code for recent weeks and possibly a few months.
Police said the victims had been attacked using malware that claimed to be from their banks. Armed with siphoned account details, thieves had transferred sums to external accounts from where it was withdrawn as cash. Accounts suspected of having been used in the thefts had been frozen.
"These arrests by the Met's Cyber Crime Unit follow an investigation into what we suspect is an international and organised crime targeting a number of bank customers in London and across the UK,” said Detective Chief Inspector Jason Tunn of the MPCCU.
“The victims have been hoodwinked by malware-carrying emails purporting to be from their banks, and subsequently had money taken from their accounts,” he said.
"The Met's Cyber Crime Unit is determined to protect people and businesses in London from cybercrime, which can see businesses ruined and people's hard-earned money taken from them in a second. We are working closely the banking industry to achieve that.
"We will also seek to restrain and seize criminal profits where possible, in order to remove the financial benefit of online crime from cyber criminals."
On the basis of the information released, the phishing plot will count as run-of-the-mill by recent UK standards with several recent cases involving multimillion thefts. Perhaps the best comparison is with the notorious case from earlier this year in which a woman was robbed of £1 million life savings by a single gang.