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Online Casino Fights High-Tech Thugs

1 Nov 2004

COSTA RICA – As reported by the LA Times: "To an old-time bookie like Mickey Richardson, $500in protection money was chump change.

"So when he got an e-mail from gangsters threatening to bring his online sports betting operation to its knees, he paid up.

"Before long, though, the thugs wanted $40,000. And that ticked him off.

"…[Richardson, who runs Costa Rica-based] couldn't figure the odds, but he was determined to fight what's fast becoming the scourge of Internet-based businesses: high-tech protection rackets in which gangs of computer hackers choke off traffic to Web sites whose operators refuse their demands.

"…The threats came in mangled English: 'In a case if you refuse our offer, your site will be attacked still long time.'

"…Costa Rican law enforcement was ill-equipped to deal with computer hackers thousands of miles away. Given the shaky legality of offshore betting, seeking help from U.S. authorities wasn't an attractive option.

"So the bookie in Costa Rica turned to Barrett Lyon, a spiky-haired philosophy major from Sacramento.

"…Lyon had been working with the FBI to shut down some of the U.S.-based computers used in the attacks on the bookmakers. But without a U.S. victim, the agency was unwilling to launch its own investigation.

"It was a different story with the British authorities. After testing the waters with the bookies in Latin America, the Russian gang had turned to similar companies based in England and Australia, where gambling firms are legal.

"Soon almost every significant British betting company had been hit at least once, and the matter grew to be a top priority for the London-based National Hi-Tech Crime Unit.

"One of the first British companies to be targeted, CanBet Ltd., had turned to the Hi-Tech Crime Unit in the fall and agreed to send traceable money to a list of names in Latvia provided by the extortionists. The unit sent a team to watch the pickup spots, along with local police, and the crew was alarmed to see the Latvians pick up cash sent by other businesses around the world.

"…Armed with the results from the money trail and Lyon's information, the British authorities went to the Russian Interior Ministry and suggested several arrests, including that of [Ivan] Maksakov, who lived in Saratov. In late July, police picked him up, along with a 23-year-old St. Petersburg man and a 24-year-old in Stavropol. Two other suspects are being sought…"

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