The New York Times called it a 21st-century version of a brazen bank heist in which the criminals never wore ski masks, threatened a teller, or set foot in a vault. In two precision operations that involved people in two dozen countries acting in close coordination and with surgical precision, thieves stole $45 million from thousands of ATMs in a few hours. In New York City alone, thieves struck 2,904 machines over 10 hours starting on Feb. 19, withdrawing $2.4 million.
The operation included sophisticated computer experts in the shadowy world of Internet hacking, manipulating financial data with the stroke of a few keys, as well as street criminals, who used the information to loot the automated teller machines. The first to be caught was a New York City street crew, their pictures captured as they traveled the city withdrawing money and stuffing backpacks with cash. Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn unsealed an indictment yesterday charging eight men — including their suspected ringleader, who was found dead in the Dominican Republic last month. It was one of the largest heists in New York City history, rivaling the 1978 Lufthansa robbery, which inspired the movie “Goodfellas.” Officials said the thefts underscored the vulnerability of financial institutions around the world to clever criminals working to stay a step ahead of the latest technologies designed to thwart them.