U.S. law enforcement officials confirmed to Bloomberg on Wednesday that they had captured notorious hacker and credit card thief Roman Seleznev last summer. Seleznev, one of the largest global traffickers in stolen credit cards, was arrested by Maldivian authorities as he was attempting to leave the country last July following a luxury vacation at a five-star resort.
Rare victory for U.S. cybercrime investigators
The capture of Seleznev was a rare victory for U.S. cybercrime investigators. They generally have little luck dealing with countries like Russia that do not have extradition treaties with the U.S. nor desire to cooperate with American law enforcement.
According to knowledgeable sources, dozens of foreign hackers remain outside the reach of the law, including Russians fraudsters and Chinese military officials charged with industrial espionage.
Seleznov lived a luxurious lifestyle
Seleznov apparently made a lot of money off of his illegal activities. Investigators point to his fancy cars, apartments and penchant for exotic vacations. Photos from his mobile phone show him posing in front of the Kremlin with a Dodge Challenger SRT muscle car as well as stacks of cash in the back seat of a vehicle. Federal prosecutors note that two bank accounts in his name received over $18 million from illegal hacking profits.
Further details on Russian hacker arrest
U.S. officials have not publicized Seleznev’s arrest, which sparked an angry tirade by the Russian government and put pressure on authorities in the Maldives, until today.
Seleznev’s father told Russian media his son would die in captivity if ge did not get his medication for a brain injury. As it has before in similar cases, the Russian government said the U.S. had kidnapped one of its citizens.
The Secret Service had been investigating Seleznev for years, and federal prosecutors had charge him with crimes including identity theft and racketeering. Court filings allege he broke into retailers’ credit-card systems, and installed malware to steal credit card numbers. He is also accused of setting up online forums where hackers could buy and sell stolen data.
The officials who spoke to Bloomberg called Seleznev one of the most successful traffickers in stolen credit-card data in history.
Tip led to arrest of Russian hacker
The Secret Service got the tip that would lead to his arrest last July. The tipster said Seleznev was traveling to a five-star resort in the Maldives, a well-known vacation spot for Europeans. Seleznev supposedly chose the Maldives because it does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S.
U.S. agents contacted officials at the State Department, who knew the Maldivian police superintendent. He agreed to help, even though the countries do not have an official extradition treaty.
A Secret Service agent based in Thailand and another from Hawaii flew to the Maldives. The plan was local police would arrest Seleznev just before boarding his return flight on July 5. The Maldivian police would then expel him from their country and hand him over to the U.S. authorities, who would put him on plane to the U.S. territory of Guam.
However, just hours before the operation, the Maldivian authorities said they needed an Interpol “red notice”. The Secret Service had not taken this step to date because Russian authorities were known to tip off targets about new arrest warrants.
Secret Service agents were ready, however, had uploaded a request for a “red notice” to Interpol as Seleznev was traveling to the Maldives airport, meaning the Russians had no chance to notify him.