The perpetrators have recently spammed phishing messages from accounts that appear to belong to collection agencies.The unrelenting flow of phishing attacks has yet to subdue despite the recent arrest of the suspected mastermind of the attacks, a 23-year-old Finn.

The man and his accomplices are believed to have obtained well over 500,000 euros by circulating e-mails and text messages while masquerading as collection agencies, Itella and the Finnish Customs in an attempt to acquire the online bank credentials of the recipients.

The main suspect was brought into custody by Estonian law-enforcement officers on an international arrest warrant in Tallinn roughly three weeks go and was extradited to Finland on 11 August. Four days later, the District Court of Helsinki detained him for probable cause of aggravated fraud and attempted aggravated fraud.

"He has denied everything in interrogations," says detective superintendent Jukkapekka Risu, the officer in charge of the investigation.

Although the main suspect has been in custody for roughly three weeks, the phishing attacks have continued. "It's fairly obvious that he alone couldn't have run the scam day and night for four months. He had an accomplice, who unfortunately remains at large," Risu concedes.

According to the police, the perpetrators have recently stopped applying for loans with the bank details of their victims and instead used them primarily for making wire transfers. Between 4 and 10 August alone, they managed to transfer roughly 30,000 euros to the accounts of proxies – including as much as 6,000-10,000 euros from individual victims.

"After taking the money, the perpetrators have recently deliberately locked the online bank. As a result, people can't tell what has happened on their account," says Risu.

A minimum of 35 people suspected of involvement in obtaining loans and making the wire transfers are suspected of money laundering.

These proxies, the pre-trial investigation suggests, may have received up to ten per cent commission for receiving the money in their bank account and forwarding it to the main suspect or his accomplice. Some of them have a history of substance abuse problems and offences.

Despite his young age, the main suspect similarly has a history of fraud convictions. In late August, he will face charges of 300 counts of fraud and computer break-in for orchestrating another fraudulent scheme in 2011-2012.

Lasse Kerkelä – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Image: Benjamin Suomela / HS