Two Indonesian hackers were arrested in Surabaya, East Java for allegedly creating a fake website to collect COVID-19 relief from the US government, a scam of which reportedly cost the latter about US$60 million.
The two suspects, identified by their initials SFR and MZMSBP, were caught following an investigation involving the East Java Police, the National Police (Polri), and the FBI.
East Java Police Chief Nico Afinta said that the fake website was made to resemble the official website of the US government, which had been intended for American citizens affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The website address was sent randomly to millions of Americans through an SMS blast.
“The scam page was made by MZM, which was then shared by SFR using an app like SMS blast, spread to 20 million phone numbers of US citizens,” Nico said yesterday.
Out of the millions of texts sent, at least 30,000 US citizens in 14 states fell for the scam by clicking the link included in the message. Their social security numbers were reportedly among the data that the victims submitted in the fake website.
“The people who were scammed would fill in several pieces of information on the website. The data were then misused by the suspects to withdraw the COVID-19 assistance funds intended for American citizens.”
The two suspects stole the funds allocated for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), through which the US government allocates US$2,000 for each citizen. According to Nico, MZM and SFR’s scam cost the US government up to US$60 million, or IDR873 billion.
The suspects reportedly used the money to buy a variety of more sophisticated equipment for future scams.
Authorities are still looking for the possibility of other parties, including foreign nationals, who might be involved in the fraud. A number of items were seized as evidence from the suspects, includng three laptops, phones, and their debit cards. SFR and MZM have been charged with financial fraud, which could see them imprisoned for up to nine years and/or given a fine of up to IDR3 billion (US$206,000) if convicted.