Rus­sian credit-card hacker faces 30-year sen­tence

Times Colonist - - Business - MIKE CARTER

SEATTLE — In Rus­sian cy­ber­crime mastermind Ro­man Seleznev, the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice is boast­ing it fi­nally caught and con­victed a big fish in the of­ten im­pen­e­tra­ble world of global com­puter theft — and now the agency in­tends to make a les­son of him.

U.S. fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors will ask a Seattle judge today to sen­tence Seleznev, 32, to 30 years in prison for op­er­at­ing a mas­sive — maybe un­prece­dented — credit-card theft scheme from be­hind key­boards in Vladi­vos­tok, Rus­sia, and Bali, In­done­sia. Over a decade, Seleznev stole and sold on the black mar­ket more than two mil­lion credit-card num­bers, re­sult­ing in losses of at least $170 mil­lion US, and maybe into the bil­lions, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments filed in U.S. Dis­trict Court in Seattle.

“Never be­fore has a crim­i­nal en­gaged in com­puter fraud of this mag­ni­tude been iden­ti­fied, cap­tured and con­victed by an Amer­i­can jury,” pros­e­cu­tors wrote.

In an 11-page hand­writ­ten let­ter to U.S. Dis­trict Judge Richard Jones, Seleznev ad­mits it all, say­ing he turned his con­sid­er­able com­puter skills to crime out of des­per­a­tion af­ter he found him­self alone on the streets of Vladi­vos­tok af­ter his mother, di­vorced from his Rus­sian politi­cian fa­ther, died from al­co­holism at age 40.

Seleznev wrote that he found her dead in the bath­tub of their tiny flat, which was shared with four other fam­i­lies. Af­ter that, he was on the streets.

“I was 17, strug­gle hard, and lose my way into bad world,” he wrote.

The pros­e­cu­tion of Seleznev has proved as epic as his crimes. Ac­cord­ing to fed­eral sen­tenc­ing doc­u­ments, he first ap­peared on U.S. law-en­force­ment radar screens in 2005 as the hacker “nCuX,” a trans­la­tion of the Rus­sian word for “psy­cho.”

By 2009, Seleznev had “be­come one of the world’s lead­ing providers of stolen credit-card data,” pros­e­cu­tors wrote.

Dur­ing this time, pros­e­cu­tors say, agents learned the iden­tity of Seleznev, the son of Valery Seleznev, a mem­ber of the Duma, Rus­sia’s par­lia­ment. Pros­e­cu­tors con­tend the se­nior Seleznev has tried to pro­tect his son.

In May 2009, ac­cord­ing to the sen­tenc­ing doc­u­ments, agents with the FBI and Se­cret Ser­vice met with mem­bers of the Rus­sian Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice in Moscow and pre­sented ev­i­dence of Ro­man Seleznev’s crimes.

“The agents’ at­tempt at in­ter­na­tional co-or­di­na­tion back­fired,” pros­e­cu­tors wrote. “Shortly af­ter that, nCuX completely dis­ap­peared from the In­ter­net.”

Pros­e­cu­tors say Seleznev reap­peared in In­done­sia us­ing new iden­ti­ties — “Track2” and “Bulba” — and em­ployed new in­no­va­tions that “took his card­ing en­ter­prise to the next level.”

On a sin­gle day in April 2011, he posted one mil­lion stolen credit-card num­bers for sale.

He was liv­ing a lav­ish lifestyle, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ments. Pros­e­cu­tors have re­leased pho­to­graphs of him with stacks of cash, and he was known to pur­chase Amer­i­can muscle cars and race them through Moscow.

In April 2011, Seleznev trav­elled with his wife to Mar­rakech, Morocco, to “re­unite” with his fa­ther, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments filed by his at­tor­ney. He was in a café when a sui­cide bomber struck, killing 27 peo­ple and leav­ing Seleznev nearly dead with a se­vere head in­jury.

Seleznev, in a coma, was flown to Moscow, where he said his wife left with his child af­ter be­ing told he would likely never re­cover. He was hos­pi­tal­ized un­til 2012. In 2013, he started hack­ing again us­ing a new iden­tity, “2Pac.”

Around the same time, a fed­eral grand jury in Seattle handed up a sealed in­dict­ment nam­ing Seleznev in more than 30 com­puter fraud-re­lated counts. Many of the busi­nesses he was ac­cused of hack­ing were in Wash­ing­ton state, in­clud­ing the former Broad­way Grill on Capi­tol Hill, Grand Cen­tral Bak­ery, Mad Pizza lo­ca­tions in Seattle and Tuk­wila, Vil­lage Pizza in Ana­cortes and the Casa Mia Ital­ian Restau­rant in Yelm, Thurston County.

Agents were un­able to ar­rest him, how­ever, be­cause he avoided trav­el­ling to coun­tries that have ex­tra­di­tion treaties with the U.S.

In June 2014, agents learned that Seleznev in­tended to travel to the trop­i­cal is­land coun­try of the Mal­dives in the In­dian Ocean.

While the U.S. did not have a treaty with the Mal­dives, of­fi­cials there agreed to let U.S. agents ar­rest Seleznev. He was taken into cus­tody at the air­port with­out in­ci­dent, de­spite of­fi­cial protests from Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties that he was kid­napped.

In Seattle, his pros­e­cu­tion has main­tained its drama over the past three years. Seleznev ac­cused gov­ern­ment agents of mis­con­duct and burned through six sets of at­tor­neys in the case. Pros­e­cu­tors at one point were con­cerned that he and his fa­ther were plot­ting an es­cape from the Fed­eral De­ten­tion Cen­ter in Sea Tac.

Seleznev was con­victed last Au­gust fol­low­ing a nine-day jury trial on 38 com­puter fraud-re­lated charges. Given the num­ber of victims and the amount of losses, the fed­eral sen­tenc­ing guide­lines — which must be con­sid­ered by a judge but not nec­es­sar­ily fol­lowed — con­clude Seleznev should go to prison for life.


A Rus­sian cy­ber­crime mastermind stole and sold on the black mar­ket more than two mil­lion credit-card num­bers.

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