Sweatshirt helps nail Citibank card scammer

FBI nabs crook because he never used stolen money to buy a different disguise

A bank-card scammer using stolen Citibank account numbers and PINs netted hundreds of thousands of dollars, but was caught because he didn't spend enough on clothes, according to court documents.

Yuriy Ryabinin, who is charged with unauthorized use of the account information, was identified by the FBI because he always wore the same distinctive sweatshirt when he made the illegal withdrawals.

During a separate FBI investigation, agents using Google searches came across photos of Ryabinin posted on the Internet that were taken in 2002 in which he was wearing the very same sweatshirt. Those photos gave investigators a name to go with the man in the gray, zippered fleece that was captured in multiple ATM surveillance photos, according to affidavits filed by the FBI and the US Secret Service.

Some of the numbers of the accounts Ryabinin is charged with pilfering were lifted from a compromised server set up to handle transactions Citibank customers made at ATM machines located in 7-Eleven stores. The bank has a deal with the convenience-store chain that lets Citibank customers use 7-Eleven ATMs without a fee.

The FBI initially came across Ryabinin's photo during an investigation of compromised accounts in First Bank in St. Louis. His photo -- with him wearing the telltale sweatshirt -- kept popping up on surveillance pictures shot when four First Bank accounts were being tapped at ATM machines in Brooklyn, N.Y.

During one five-minute spree in the early morning of Oct. 1 last year, the accounts were hit for US$9,624, according to the FBI court filing. From the photos, the FBI knew it was the same person draining the accounts, but not who he was.

Later, photos of the same man showed up on surveillance tapes at ATMs where US$750,000 in illegal withdrawals were made during February alone from accounts compromised by the Citibank 7-Eleven server.

Separately, law enforcement agencies were monitoring Web sites where thieves buy and sell stolen credit- and debit-card information. They flagged one participant who posted the user-ID number associated with the instant-messaging service he bought from ICQ. A cross-check with the ICQ directory showed that the number was associated with a person named Yuri.

Googling the user-ID number also resulted in a link between the number and a person using a certain ham-radio call sign. Googling the call-sign netted photos of Ryabinin at ham-radio conferences in Dayton, Ohio, in 2002 and 2003.

In the 2002 photos he is wearing the same sweatshirt.

Checking the ham call-number with the Federal Communications Commission yielded Ryabinin's name and address.

Ryabinin used an alias, Yuriy Rakushchynets, to obtain a Michigan driver's license, the FBI says. A Secret Service affidavit says when they searched Rakushchynets' Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, they found more than $800,000 in cash, a computer logged on to a stolen-card marketplace site and a device to put bank-card account numbers on the magnetic strips of phony bank cards.

In March, an indictment bearing Rakushchynets' name and those of Ivan Biltse and Angelina Kitaeva, were handed down in US District Court in New York charging them with stealing more than US$3 million from unauthorized use of bank-card data.

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Tim Greene

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