EXCLUSIVE: London Cybercrime Capital: Many wanted by FBI over multi-million frauds arrested in UK
LONDON has become a hotspot for alleged international cyber criminal kingpins at a time when the head of the National Crime Agency (NCA) has admitted it needs to improve how it combats serious online fraud.
At least 10 alleged cyber crooks suspected by the FBI of involvement in multi-million pound scams have been arrested in the UK.
They include Russian Arturs Zaharevics, 33, who was found living in Hackney, north London.
The FBI alleges he and three other men are key members of a "transnational organised crime network known as 'QQAAZZ' which the bureau says has laundered millions of pounds on behalf of the world’s most prolific cyber criminals, taking up to a 50 per cent cut, before converting it into crypto currency.
The international arrest warrant issued by the US states: "The conspirators are members of a transnational organised crime network known as 'QQAAZZ'.
SCAM: Cyber crooks wanted by the FBI have been found living in the UK
"QQAAZZ provides money laundering services to significant cybercriminal organisations that stole and attempted to steal money from unwitting US and foreign victims."
It added that on dates between January 2016 and September 2019 Zaharevics conspired with others in the group "to defraud victims of various cybercriminal schemes by dishonestly receiving and laundering stolen money."
Zaharevics was based in the UK during some of this period, meaning some of the alleged offending took place from here.
He is in custody fighting extradition to the US and appeared at Westminster Magistartes' Court last month when the case was adjourned.
According to the FBI QQAAZZ provides other cybercrime gangs with access to criminally-controlled bank accounts around the world, which they can use to move the funds of frauds between, as a kind of "global, complicit bank drops service.”
An NCA spokesman said: "We work closely with our partners in the US and regularly share information and intelligence on various criminal threats, including cyber crime.
"We arrested Zaharevics on behalf of the US."
The spokesman said Zaharevics and QQAAZZ had been on the NCA "radar" prior to the arrest.
POSE: Maksim Boiko has been pictured with bundles of notes on Instagram
Earlier this year fellow alleged QQAAZZ member, Russian rapper Maksim Boiko, 30, (top image) was arrested with $20,000 on him at Miami Airport.
Boiko is pictured on social media accounts posing in locations around the world with champagne, cigars and bundles of cash.
He has denied money laundering offences with the case still to be heard.
The NCA said it arrested five other people on suspicion of money laundering during its probe into QQAAZZ.
The British, Georgian and Latvian nationals aged 30-33, were detained at various addresses in London between October 21 and 25 2019.
They have been released under investigation as enquiries continue.
NCA officers seized mobile phones, computers, suspected false IDs and financial documents in searches across eleven properties and four vehicles.
The overall operation, which was coordinated by Europol and involved 16 countries, saw a further 14 individuals arrested across Europe, the US and Australia.
Criminal indictments unsealed in the US allege the QQAAZZ network is responsible for laundering tens of millions stolen by international cyber criminals since 2016.
The crime group is believed to have laundered the money through numerous corporate and personal bank accounts, which they had opened with financial institutions throughout the world. It was often converted into cryptocurrency to hide its original source.
After taking its fee, the network transferred the balance back to the cyber criminals who were responsible for stealing it.
QQAAZZ advertised its services on Russian-speaking online cyber crime forums and was employed by those behind the world’s most harmful strands of malware, such as Dridex and Trickbot.
Both strains of malware have had a significant detrimental impact on businesses and individuals in the UK in recent years.
Trickbot has been one of the primary causes of fraud related losses to the UK banking sector, with one UK bank reporting losses attributable to Trickbot worth over £2 million in a 12 month period.
Richard Winstanley from the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Financially motivated cyber criminals rely heavily on the services of money launderers like the QQAAZZ network to access the funds stolen from victims.
“Targeting such networks is just one of the ways the NCA works to cause disruption to the organised cyber criminals who have the most significant impact on the UK.
“Cyber crime, by default, is a threat that crosses borders and international collaboration such as this is crucial to tackling it.
“The NCA investigation into UK-based members of this network remains ongoing.”
Separately, Lituanian Alexander Skorodumov, 32, is also wanted in the states in connection with another cyber network.
He was arrested while living in Kilburn, north London.
The FBI alleges in an international arrest warrant that from 2013 to 2019 "Skorodumov has been part of an organised international wide criminal network that knowingly and intentionally provided 'bulletproof hosting' services to criminals who used those services to commit cybercrime and banking fraud offences."
He is also fighting extradition and is remanded in custody until the next hearing.
Three others sought from the UK by the US are Nigerians Olabanji Egbinola, 41, from Chafford Hundred, Essex, Oludayo Adeagbo, 41, from Chingford, east London, and Donald Echeazy, 38, from Romford.
The three are alleged by the FBI to have used a string of aliases and conspired since 2016 to carry out "several separate business email compromise fraud schemes buy convincing several victims, including state and local government agencies, universities and businesses located on three US judicial districts, to send money to bank accounts the perpetrators controlled."
They appeared at the same court this month, with Adeagbo remanded while the two others were bailed ahead of an extradition hearing next year.
Habeeb Audu, 52, a dual Nigerian/UK national of an unknown address was extradited to the US last month accused in connection with a £2 million email compromise scam that allegedly tricked banks and the federal Deposit Insurance Corporation into sending the money into accounts his group controlled.
He awaits trial in the US.
UNDERRESOURSED: Lynne Owens, NCA Director General,
Lynne Owens, NCA Director General, admitted the agency needs to improve its response to fraud and cyber crimes.
She said: "I could point to our lack of coherence in the response to victims of fraud – which now makes up around a third of all crime.
"Or the fact that the country’s investigative Team Cyber is funded through a separate and short term stream."
Ms Owens said a key NCA aim was to improve its response to financial crime.
She said: "This means taking more action against the highest-harm criminals and online fraudsters in the UK, making sure that crime doesn’t pay by seizing assets from them.
"We want to target corrupt global elites who abuse the financial system, ensuring the UK is the safest place to invest and its institutions more resilient to hostile states and cyber-crime."