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IRS: (Russian?) Hackers Steal 100,000 Tax Records

DH Kass | The VAR Guy

In this era of big-time cyber crime, first we had point-of-sale break ins by hackers to steal customer information, then mega-retail was victimized, followed by the most recent battleground of stolen medical records. Now it’s the IRS that’s become a target of cyber thieves. Imagine that.
Cyber crooks, perhaps operating as an organized crime syndicate, pilfered the tax records of some 100,000 people to steal identities and claim fraudulent tax refunds, the IRS said. The hackers reportedly broke into an online system called “Get Transcript” in which taxpayers can procure tax returns and filings from prior years.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told the Associated Press that the stolen records is the work of professionals. An unusually large number of requests by taxpayers requesting transcripts prompted the agency to investigate, he said.
"We're confident that these are not amateurs," said Koskinen, in the AP report. "These actually are organized crime syndicates that not only we but everybody in the financial industry are dealing with."
Initial reports said officials weren't certain where the cyber thieves are based nor is it known if the break in netted them enough personal information about the taxpayers to compile fake tax returns. However, a subsequent CNN report said sources indicated the break-in appeared to be based in Russia.
The IRS said organized crime syndicates in 2014 filed $50 million in fraudulent tax refunds based on stolen personal data.
Koskinen said the thieves targeted the online system from February to mid-May. The IRS’ main computer system was not affected, he said.
"In all, about 200,000 attempts were made from questionable email domains, with more than 100,000 of those attempts successfully clearing authentication hurdles," the IRS said.
The IRS said it has initiated a criminal investigation.
"Eighty percent of the of the identity theft we're dealing with and refund fraud is related to organized crime here and around the world," Koskinen told the AP. "These are extremely sophisticated criminals with access to a tremendous amount of data."
The IRS said it is notifying affected taxpayers of the intrusion.

Oldham Council takes on the mafia in Russian copyright counterfeit crackdown

By Matt Mallinson

Oldham Council has helped to take down a Russian crime gang who are believed to have been selling fake CDs, documentation and computers.
This is the first case of a high quality counterfeit industry being operated by a Russian organised crime gang within the UK.
Trading Standards, Greater Manchester Police and the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) teamed up to raid an address in Shaw after intelligence was gathered by the BPI.
David Wood, Director of Copyright Protection said: “Making vast sums of money off the back of fake CDs and DVDs via an international network is harmful to music stores online and on the high street, damaging towards investment in new artists, and simply wrong.
"We would like to thank Oldham Council’s Trading Standards and Greater Manchester Police for their ongoing commitment to tackling illicit trading.”
Materials seized for forensic investigation have now been passed on so the case can be dealt with by GMP.
It is suspected that the fake CDs were being sold via an online marketplace.
Councillor David Hibbert, Cabinet Member for Housing, Planning and Highways said: “High quality counterfeit CDs can be difficult for the average shopper to spot and as a result consumers are often tricked into thinking they are buying the genuine item.
“Not only does this mislead music fans but it generates money for those trading illegally, at the expense of legitimate high street retailers and businesses."

Research to map organized crime, terrorism hotspots in Eurasia

 LAWRENCE – As organized crime plays an increasing role in funding terrorism, research at the University of Kansas aims to pinpoint hotspots in Eurasia where drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism coincide.
Selected to receive a $953,500 Minerva grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative, Mariya Omelicheva, the study’s principal investigator, along with KU geography professor Stephen Egbert and Rowan University political science associate professor Lawrence Markowitz, will examine the connections between terrorism and organized crime in Central Asia, South Caucasus and Russia. The three-year project also will look at the conditions under which terrorist-trafficking alliances are forged and changed and the ability for governments and international organizations to monitor, prevent and dismantle the terrorist and criminal activity.
“Distinguishing this study is its systematic approach, which does not rely on anecdotal or piecemeal evidence,” said Omelicheva, who is director of the KU Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies and associate professor of political science.
Using GIS tools, the project will map and model the nexus between trafficking and terrorism in nine Eurasian countries. Researchers will pull the geographical coordinates of major terrorist incidents from the Global Terrorism Database, geo-reference drug seizures reported by the United Nations’ Office on Drugs and Crime, and human trafficking data assembled from the International Organization for Migration survey. KU students will help with the mapping and analyzing of data.
A better understanding of the connection between trafficking and terrorism in Eurasia improves U.S. national security, Omelicheva said. Ultimately, the project hopes to identify trafficking and terrorism hotspots where the U.S. military can direct assets to disrupt the activity.
“Trafficking and terrorism adversely impact governance, security, stability and development in this region and beyond,” Omelicheva said. “They create conditions precipitous for the rise of crime, violence and extremism in states that are U.S. partners and allies.”
More than a quarter of all the drugs produced in opium-rich Afghanistan pass through Eurasia. Drug trafficking in the region has been linked to the strength of such terrorists groups as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union and al-Qaida. The illicit sale of weapons is common in the area, and locals are drawn into human trafficking rings either for forced labor or sexual exploitation.
“Central Asia is a hotspot for human trafficking and drug trafficking. A lot of the trafficking that is happening is for Russian and European consumption, while the Central Asian states are where most of the traffickers and trafficking victims originate,” Omelicheva said.
Over the past few decades, the means by which terrorist organizations are funded has dramatically changed. The breakup of the Soviet Union eliminated the major state funders. And after 9/11, the U.S. led efforts to clamp down on money laundering and other financial operations that supported terrorism. Those changes have left terrorist groups more dependent on organized crime.
“They have been either engaged in criminal activities themselves or form alliances and partnerships with criminal organizations,” Omelicheva said.
The connection between terrorism and organized crime can be a complex one, Omelicheva said. For example, drug dealers and traffickers can be recruited while in prison to be terrorists, creating a hybrid identity.
Deciphering if acts of violence are terrorism or organized crime can be difficult. In some tumultuous areas of Central Asia, bombings or assassinations have been attributed to terrorism when they were actually part of a drug turf war.
“If we misrepresent those type of violent activities as terrorism, we are giving the wrong idea of what is going on,” Omelicheva said. “The policy implication is that funds get misplaced and we are coming up with solutions that don’t match the nature of the problem."
The KU Institute for Policy & Social Research assisted with the development of the grant proposal and will manage the DOD award. IPSR is the KU's designated social science research center and has ongoing research focused on human trafficking. 

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. The university's mission is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world. The KU News Service is the central public relations office for the Lawrence campus.

Tests Show Russian Whistleblower May Have Been Killed by Rare Poison

A Russian businessman who collapsed and died in 2012 while jogging near his home may have been killed by a rare poison, a new toxicology test has indicated. hny, 44, was a wealthy businessman who had turned in sensitive documents to Swiss prosecutors. These were used to implicate several Russian officials and organized crime figures in a US$ 240 million tax fraud case. 
The fraud case was uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after being held in inhumane conditions and denied healthcare.
Perepilichny died in Surrey, United Kingdom, on 10 November 2012. After two autopsies, his cause of death remained unclear. Following a police investigation, his death was officially deemed unsuspicious.
However, RFE/RL reports that the new tests – ordered in advance of a prospective inquest – found trace amounts of chemicals derived from the toxic gelsemium plant in Perepilichny’s stomach.
Further tests are needed to determine if this was also present in his body.