When Robert Blanchard tried to access his Citibank account this past July, he was blocked. Even though he alerted Citibank right away, within 24 hours Blanchard was missing $1 million.
"If you had a robbery taking place in your facility you could call 911," Blanchard said. "Here there is no 911 for any cyber crime."
CBS News justice correspondent Bob Orr reports that investigators later found his computer had been hacked by an organized crime gang in Russia. Monitoring Blanchard's keystrokes, internet thieves were able to access and empty his bank account.
"It's the business of hacking where organized criminal elements have very well structured organizations to specifically target financial institutions," said CBS News terrorism analyst Paul Kurtz. "Specifically target their customers and to extract as much wealth and value as they can without getting caught."
Blanchard is just one victim in a largely-unacknowledged cyber crime wave. No one knows exactly how much is being stolen. But law enforcement sources say foreign-based hackers are continuously targeting customer accounts of every major financial firm.
While the cyber thieves have been very successful, banks and financial firms refuse to publicly concede any losses.
"No one wants to admit they've been hit," Kurtz said. "No one wants to come out and say I have a problem and I need help."
Banks, fearing a drop in customer confidence, are working to bolster their cyber security. But, individuals like Robert Blanchard who use home computers to do their banking are still highly vulnerable.
"I have stopped transferring money," Blanchard said. "I'd rather take the walk down to the bank."
Investigators helped Blanchard recover about $810,000, and Citibank covered the balance of his missing million. But, his case stands as fair warning: online banking customers are prime targets of criminals armed with computers.
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