By Deborah Gage Print this article Print

Crime is now organized on the Internet. Operating in the anonymity of cyberspace, the Shadowcrew and Web mobs like it threaten the trust companies have spent years trying to build with customers, online.

The Law Closes In

With the help of the informant, the tracked IP addresses, the wiretap and other documents secured during the investigation, the Secret Service finally knew the Shadowcrew.

And decided it was time to take it down.

The conversations on that October evening probably revolved around a head fake. Former U.S. Attorney Christie says it takes an urgent matter to get members of a group like this all online at the same time—an interesting topic such as a new method of gaining unauthorized access to bank account information, or another scam to rip people off.

"What you try to do is make it so interesting and so compelling that everyone who is requested to be online at the date and time is online," Christie explains.

Whatever they were talking about, the suspects stayed at their keyboards until law-enforcement officials showed up on their doorsteps. Given the nature of a Web mob, all the knocks had to come at the same time.

"It's very easy for a bad guy on an Internet case to be able to contact other bad guys on a moment's notice," says Special Agent Johnson. "He can be thousands of miles away—in a different time zone—but if [a criminal gets] an instant message saying 'clean out your hard drive, stow the cash,' then the element of surprise is not on your side."

But even with crew members under arrest, the Secret Service didn't immediately pull down the group's Web site.

Timeline: Cybercrime

Some of the Most Infamous Computer Crimes Have Happened in the Past Five Years.

A look back at significant attacks launched from the U.S. and overseas, and the steps—and stings—the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service have taken to catch online fraudsters.

Investigators replaced it for a few days with a warning: "Activities by Shadowcrew members are being investigated by the United States Secret Service." Under a photograph of hands clutching the bars of a jail cell, the Secret Service listed the charges Shadowcrew members face, and called on visitors to turn themselves in: "Contact your local United States Secret Service field office before we contact you!!!"

This article was originally published on 2005-03-07
Senior Writer
Based in Silicon Valley, Debbie was a founding member of Ziff Davis Media's Sm@rt Partner, where she developed investigative projects and wrote a column on start-ups. She has covered the high-tech industry since 1994 and has also worked for Minnesota Public Radio, covering state politics. She has written freelance op-ed pieces on public education for the San Jose Mercury News, and has also won several national awards for her work co-producing a documentary. She has a B.A. from Minnesota State University.

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