Two men have been jailed for their part in a cleverly-targeted phishing scam that managed to steal a total of £1.5 million ($2.3 million) from UK students by impersonating the official loans company.
Timed to coincide with the award of loans last August, the men - Britons Damola Clement Olatunji and Amos Njoroge Mwangi - were found to have separately sent out large numbers of emails asking students to confirm their bank account details via a bogus website.
Armed with the logins from those who responded, the men stole sums ranging from £1,000 to £5,000 from victims who probably ran to several thousand in number.
After being alerted to the attack by the Student Loans Company, in December the men were among several individuals picked up by police.
Police found that Mwangi's PC contained a number of programs that allowed him to design and control phishing emails and their associated websites.
Olatunji's computer showed evidence of having collected student bank logins from at least 1,300 victims, linking him to £304,000 of criminal proceeds and a further £162,000 of attempted fraud. He also appeared to have a sideline operation that netted him £75,000 of theft from the Halifax bank.
At Southwark Crown Court in London on 6 July, Olatunji was jailed for six and half years with Mwangi being given three years and three months at an earlier hearing in June. Police are still not sure if or to what extent the men were working together.
“Mwangi and Olatunji were determined fraudsters who systematically targeted British students in order to steal large amounts of money,” said Detective Inspector Jason Tunn of the Metropolitan Police Central e-Crime Unit (PceU).
“Despite the complexity of the investigation, PCeU investigators working closely with the Student Loan Company and other partners, were able to identify those responsible and bring them to justice,” he said.
Although phishing scams are extremely common, attacks targetting specific groups such as students are still relatively rare. This made the case notable, as did its astonishing success.
In the last case with a UK student theme, the student was the offender rather than the victim; 22 year old Paul McLoughlin was found guilty in May 2011 of stealing gaming logins while resident at Salford University.