NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Alleged members of a local cyber crime cell stole nearly $3 million from thousands of ATMs across New York City in a matter of hours, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, who first broke the story Thursday morning, reported that the heist was breathtaking in its scope.
Banks around the world are now scrambling to strengthen firewalls after the alarming and unprecedented cyber bank heist.
It was all part of "a massive 21st Century bank heist'' against financial institutions around the world that netted an international gang of cyber-criminals $45 million, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said.
"In the place of guns and masks, this cyber crime organization used laptops and the Internet," Lynch said.
It may be the largest cyber bank robbery in history, Miller reported.
8 Charged With Stealing Millions In Connection With Global ATM Cyber Attacks
Seven alleged members of a New York cell of the global cyber-crime operation have been arrested, Lynch said. An eighth person who was also allegedly involved, Alberto Yusi Lajud-Pena, was reported murdered in the Dominican Republic late last month, prosecutors said.
EXTRA: Read The Full Indictment
The scheme, called the "unlimited operation," involved hundreds of members spread out around the world and targeted banks in at least 26 countries, prosecutors said.
To carry out the attacks, hackers would obtain debit card data, eliminate withdrawal limits on the accounts and then fan out a network of operatives across multiple cities around the world to rapidly withdraw money from ATMs, prosecutors said. The scheme allowed the hackers virtually unlimited access to cash.
They first struck in December when they hacked into an Indian bank and withdrew money totaling $5 million, prosecutors said.
8 Accused Of Stealing Millions In Global Cyber Attacks
The second strike happened in February when they targeted a Visa and MasterCard debit card processor, prosecutors said. The loss that time totaled approximately $40 million.
In New York City alone during that attack, members of the New York cell stole $2.4 million from nearly 3,000 ATMs in the course of two hours, prosecutors said.
"This scheme was organized for months and planned down to the minute, reminiscent of the casino heist in 'Ocean's Eleven,'" Lynch said.
Lynch said that New York heist was the second largest in the city's history, behind only the Lufthansa robbery.
After the thefts, Lynch said some of the suspects took photos of themselves holding stacks of stolen cash or with items they bought with that money -- ranging from Rolex watches to expensive cars.
"They seemed somewhat star struck themselves by the amount of money they had looted," Lynch said.
The intricate scheme required a combination of three groups: The backers, those with big money who paid people to break into bank systems; the hackers who actually cracked security codes to get PIN numbers and account information; and the cashers, Miller reported.
Jael Mejia Collado, Joan Luis Minier Lara, Evan Jose Peña, Jose Familia Reyes, Elvis Rafael Rodriguez, Emir Yasser Yeje and Chung Yu-Holguin, were indicted on various charges including conspiracy to commit access device fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and money laundering, Lynch said.
All of the suspects, who are mostly in their 20s, are U.S. citizens originally from the Dominican Republic and lived in Yonkers, Lynch said. They all knew each other and were recruited together, she said.
Lajud-Pena was found dead in April with a suitcase full of about $100,000 in cash. His death is under investigation.
If convicted, each suspect faces up to 10 years in jail on each of the money laundering charges and 7.5 years on the conspiracy to commit access device fraud charge.
The banks will bear the immediate brunt of the financial loss, but its a price likely to get passed on to customers down the line, Miller reported.
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