The use of U.S. money transfer companies to send swindled funds to Russia and Ukraine has spiked, involving dozens of apparently unsuspecting people hired to unwittingly commit Internet banking fraud, police sources said.
Unable to track the money beyond those countries, Japanese law enforcement has asked for help from Russian counterparts through Interpol to determine the recipients, the sources said. Investigators also plan to get help from Ukrainian authorities.
Using stolen IDs and passwords to infect account holders’ computers with viruses, perpetrators stole about ¥760 million from Japanese Internet bank accounts in 766 cases this year through Oct. 15, according to a tally by the National Police Agency.
In a typical case, a virus opens a mock Net banking website when the account holder tries to access the genuine site. Unaware, the person enters his or her ID and password, which is then sent to the perpetrators.
The total already tops the record high for all of 2011, according to the NPA.
The police confirmed in March the first funds were sent out of Japan via U.S. remittance services Western Union and MoneyGram.
Overseas money transfers using these services have surged since July, totaling around ¥114 million, accounting for around 15 percent of all the fraudulently obtained funds this year.
The sources said a group of criminals first send swindled funds to the accounts of people in Japan hired through online forums and other places.
These hired “agents” then withdraw the funds from their accounts and send them abroad via Western Union and MoneyGram branches for a commission of 5 to 10 percent, the sources said.
Police believe the criminal group is taking advantage of fund transfer services, which ask that senders simply show ID, unlike commercial banks, which require that the receiver’s name and bank account number be registered.
The group hired up to 120 people in 16 countries, with Japan-based agents forming the largest segment with 69 people. Often, these middlemen are unaware that the money was illicitly obtained, and no charges have so far been filed against them.