Charges Unsealed in Nebraska Against Russian National in Alleged Widespread Cyberfraud Scheme

Dec. 5, 2019, 5 p.m. ·

Maksim Yakubets is accused of carrying out the "Zeus" scheme, a criminal cyberfraud operation. (Graphic courtesy Department of Justice)

The Department of Justice unsealed charges Thursday in Nebraska and Pennsylvania in what they call one of the most widespread cyberfraud campaigns in the world.

The Evil Corp hacking group was allegedly led by Russian national Maksim Yakubets, 32, of Moscow.

The criminal complaint alleges he and associates used "Bugat" malware to target 21 cities, banks, companies, and non-profit organizations in 12 states across the U.S. Investigators added that easily thousands of computers were compromised over the course of a decade, beginning in 2009.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Nebraska Joe Kelly said nearly $160,000 was stolen from a Nebraska business. Two other heists were attempted involving a First National Bank of Omaha business account.

“The methodology was similar each time: infect the business computer, obtain bank account number and security funds, and initiate electronic fund transfers to money mules overseas,” Kelly said.

Overall, Yakubets and another Russian national charged in Pennsylvania allegedly defrauded victims worldwide of up to $70 million. According to investigators, Yakubets has spent the money on an array of luxury items, including a Lamborghini with a license plate boasting "thief" in Russian.

Two Ukrainian associates of Yakubets pled guilty in 2015 to charges related to their roles in the hackings after being extradited from the U.K.

Kelly said the charges should serve as a warning to hackers near and far.

“When someone hears about a case like this, very often the first response is ‘Well, there’s nothing you can really do about these.’ Today, we’re here to demonstrate that we can, and we will," Kelly said.

But it’s not clear yet if victims will get their money back. U.S. Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski noted the investigation is ongoing.

"There is a forfeiture complaint ... in the Pittsburgh complaint, and so that is our aim, to follow the money wherever we can," Benczkowski said.

Should that assuage victims?

"Time will tell," he said.