TALLINN - Bank and credit card fraud has apparently become the new trend crime among Estonians; with police reports suggesting Estonia's IT literate younger generations are adapting their expertise to criminal ends.
The Estonian police say that this new illegal enterprise has now become the most common criminal activity by Estonians abroad, a status previously held by drug smuggling.
Eesti Paevaleht reported that most of the culprits that have been caught so far are amateur IT specialists who have put their skills to unlawful use.
The Public Prosecutor's Office is currently handling three separate cases where Estonians are accused of counterfeiting means of payment; with police on average opening 10 criminal investigations into such cases annually. According to Kalmer Viska, senior superintendent with the central criminal police, there is an evident growth in the trend.
"This field is becoming more and more important every year, and you have to reckon that every separate case usually consists of hundreds of episodes," he said.
Viska explains that the increasing prevalence of IT in society has changed the landscape in which criminals operate, rendering the traditional bank robbery laughably obsolete in the face of digital crime.
"We no longer have classical bank heists. In a casino robbery you can get 5,000 kroons (320 euros) and that's it, but by emptying a single bank account you may get the same sum in euros," he said.
According to police investigations, ways of obtaining bank data and withdrawing money can vary dramatically, and while wider patterns exist, they are not common enough to develop a resolute, all-encompassing strategy to address the crime.
The report indicates that most offenders are young men without a criminal record who are in the course of studying higher education in a technical discipline. Most are not IT professionals but amateurs and hobbyists. Foreigners appear to be the main targets.
The targeting of foreigners has not gone unnoticed internationally with the U.S. Department of State offering travel warnings highlighting the frequency of bank fraud, and particularly credit card fraud, in Estonia.
Estonia has also received international recognition as a hotbed for bank fraud through the role of Estonians in major scams abroad. Earlier this year the U.S. and the U.K. witnessed the biggest credit card fraud operations in their respective histories; both were IT based attacks and both involved Estonians.
Estonian Aleksandr Suvorov was involved in an 11 strong internet-based operation which breached over 40 million U.S. credit cards in August, while fellow countryman Hannes Pajasalu was jailed in the U.K. in April after his gang of five was found to have stolen 17 million pounds (243.2 million kroons or 21.9 million euros) via internet infiltration.
Counterfeiting a means of payment or using a counterfeited means of payment is punishable with three to 10 years imprisonment according to the Estonian penal code.