- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A Turkish computer hacker on Tuesday pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn courthouse to five counts related to a spree of cyberattacks that prosecutors said resulted in more than $55 million in losses to the global financial sector.

Ercan Findikoglu, 34, owned to charges of computer intrusion conspiracy, access device fraud conspiracy and effecting transactions with unauthorized access devices, prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York announced on Tuesday.

Operating online under the aliases “Segate” and “Predator,” prosecutors said Findikoglu orchestrated a sophisticated cybercrime ring starting in 2010 that allowed criminals to siphon tens of millions of dollars from automated teller machines in two dozen countries by targeted prepaid debit card payment processors.

During one operating in Feb. 2011, prosecutors claim Findikoglu and his co-conspirators managed to withdraw around $10 million in a matter of hours by completing thousands of fraudulent ATM transactions around the globe. In all, prosecutors believe the group made off with more than $55 million in illegal proceeds, including at least $2.4 million taken from ATMs in New York City during an 11-hour span in 2013.

“Findikoglu and other co-conspirators manipulated network administrator privileges at the victim card processing companies and stole the personal identification numbers (PINs) associated with the compromised debit cards. Findikoglu and his co-conspirators then disseminated the stolen card data worldwide to the leaders of cashing crews and directed that their teams use the information to make fraudulent ATM withdrawals on a massive scale across the globe,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement on Tuesday.

“In the place of guns and masks, this cybercrime organization used laptops and the Internet,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, then the United States attorney in Brooklyn, said when the FBI began announcing charges against members of the conspiracy in Dec. 2013. “Moving as swiftly as data over the Internet, the organization worked its way from the computer systems of international corporations to the streets of New York City, with the defendants fanning out across Manhattan to steal millions of dollars from hundreds of ATM’s in a matter of hours.”

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Findikoglu had managed to elude U.S. authorities for years before being captured by German police in Frankfurt in December 2013. He unsuccessfully fought extradition for 18 months, and initially entered a not guilty plea where he was brought to the U.S. last June and charged with 18 counts.

“I agreed with others to target prepaid debit-card accounts … and increased the account balances of those prepaid debit-card accounts so that co-conspirators could use the compromised accounts to withdraw currency,” Findikoglu told the court on Tuesday, the New York Post reported.

Although the Turk faces a maximum of more than 57 years behind bars when he’s sentenced in July, prosecutors will likely agree to a sentence not exceeding 14 years, the New York Post reported.

U.S. Attorney Robert L. Capers said this week’s guilty plea “demonstrates this office’s commitment to pursue those who use the perceived safety and anonymity of their computers to steal from innocent victims.”

“This case demonstrates by constricting this criminal enterprise, there is no such thing as anonymity in the cyber world,” added Secret Service Special Agent in Charge David E. Beach, whose office participated in the investigation with the aid of the FBI.

Thirteen co-conspirators indicted alongside Findikoglu have previously pleaded guilty to related charges, the Post noted. 

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• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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