Hacker Charged With Ripping Off Celebs Through Web

N E W   Y O R K, March 20, 2001 -- A Brooklyn man has been charged with stealing millions from the rich and famous through the Internet, apparently using a public library computer to help him pull off the heist.

Law enforcement officials have confirmed to ABCNEWS that Abraham Abdallah, 32, of Brooklyn, was arrested last month by the New York Police Department and has been charged with attempted grand larceny in the first degree and possession of forged devices.

Authorities say Abdallah used the Web to pilfer huge amounts of money from the financial accounts of celebrities and business executives he may have found on the Forbes list of the "400 Richest People in America."

Indeed, the list of alleged victims reads like a who's who of the country's rich and famous, including Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martha Stewart, Ross Perot, Ted Turner, investors George Soros and Warren Buffett, and many other prominent executives.

Identity Theft Using Investment Banks

According to a report in today's New York Post, Abdallah, who worked as a busboy in a New York restaurant, allegedly duped credit companies into providing credit histories of the celebrities by sending them forged document requests on the stationery of leading investment banks, including Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs.

He then apparently used the data to gain access to the celebrities' credit card numbers and brokerage accounts.

Using Web-based e-mail services available through computers in a branch of the local lending library, Abdallah allegedly made many requests to transfer funds from the existing accounts of the targeted people to phony accounts he had constructed. Abdallah may have successfully employed his ruse for as long as six months.

Abdallah also apparently used a Web-enabled cell phone and fax and virtual voice mail to make his requests seem more legitimate. He would create voice mail accounts in the area codes of his victims and then access them from New York.

Callers thinking they were leaving a message for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in Seattle, for example, would have heard a greeting (in Abdallah's voice), and Abdallah could have checked any messages left at that number.

Police detectives also have asserted that Abdallah used a sophisticated set of mail drops to pick up his loot, sometimes using multiple couriers to take one package to its eventual destination, and monitoring the whereabouts of his packages sent to him via Federal Express and UPS.

Stealing Via the Web, Busted Via the Web

According to the Post, the use of Web-based e-mail also led to Abdallah's downfall, when he requested the transfer of more money than existed in the Merrill Lynch account of Thomas Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems, an e-commerce software provider.

The NYPD gradually unraveled the electronic trail left by Abdallah and nabbed him last month in dramatic circumstances after a sting operation, with the arresting officer diving through the sun roof of Abdallah's car to handcuff him.

It was only after the arrest, law enforcement authorities say, that they discovered Abdallah's heavily annotated copy of Forbes, marked up with addresses, phone numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and more information about the noted people on the list.

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