On February 19, one of the largest bank heists in history was pulled off and almost no one noticed. No getaway vehicles were left idling, no guns were pointed, no panic buttons were pressed—but somehow several crews in two dozen countries working in perfect precision walked away with $40 million in cash.
Eight people in New York have now been charged in the robbery, which spanned the globe and required almost military coordination. The technique used by the thieves, as detailed in the indictment unsealed today, was decidedly simple, even if it required skillful hacking and precise timing.
Essentially, they broke into credit-card processing companies and raised withdrawal limits on credit and debit cards, the information for which they then transferred to new magnetic stripe cards.
From there, they'd simply coordinate a time to cash in. After a preliminary, $5 million haul in December, courtesy an Indian card-processing company and National Bank of Ras Al-Khaimah, they went after a U.S. credit-card processor and the Bank of Muscat in Oman. From The New York Times:
On Feb. 19, “cashing crews” stood at the ready at A.T.M.'s across Manhattan and in two dozen other countries waiting for word to spring into action. [...]
After securing 12 account numbers for cards issued by the Bank of Muscat in Oman and raising the withdrawal limits, the cashing crews were set in motion. Starting at 3 p.m., the crews made 36,000 transactions and withdrew about $40 million from machines in the various countries in about 10 hours. In New York City alone, a team of eight people made 2,904 withdrawals, stealing $2.4 million.
Surveillance photos of one suspect hitting various A.T.M.'s showed the man’s backpack getting heavier and heavier, Ms. Lynch said, comparing the robbery to the caper at the center of the movie “Ocean’s 11.”
Authorities have not yet said when or how the crime was discovered or the suspects identified, and its unclear if arrests have been made in the other countries where the withdrawals had taken place (according to the Times, "[l]aw enforcement agencies in more than a dozen countries, including Japan, Canada, Germany and Romania, have been involved in the investigation").
The arrested suspects appear to have been involved in the cash-withdrawal segment of the operation only, and police haven't indicated who else may have been involved, or how. Alberto "Prime" Lajud-Pena, 23, apparently the crew's ringleader, was killed in the Dominican Republic in late April in what police believe to have been a homicide.
[image via U.S. Attorney's Office]