Members of an alleged international phishing gang have been arrested following an investigation by Italian police.

The Guardia di Finanza have apprehended 18 Italian citizens and 8 foreign nationals from Eastern Europe in an operation dubbed "Phish & Chip," following a widespread phishing campaign that targeted internet users of Poste Italiane's home-banking services. Poste Italiane is the government-owned postal service which offers financial services across Italy.

The gang is alleged to have spammed out e-mails, directing users to a bogus Poste Italiane Web site that stole their login information.

According to a police statement, a 22-year-old man was the main hacker in the group, and confessed to sending e-mails that pretended to come from Poste Italiane, directing internet users to Web servers based overseas that had cloned the appearance of the real banking Web site. Once login information had been seized, he is alleged to have emptied the innocent users' bank accounts and transferred the money to PostePay cards activated by members of the gang.

The man police alleged to be the ringleader of the gang is said to have made an escape attempt lasting 12 hours before eventually being arrested by the Military Financial Police. The man declared to the authorities that he was a data processing consultant who helped Italian companies prevent credit card fraud.

Laptop computers, data backup devices, false documents, mobile phones, and materials for creating credit cards have been seized by the authorities at the locations they searched across Italy. Numerous credit cards belonging to the Banca Intesa were also confiscated, some of which are said to have been used by the gang the day before at the Casino of San Remo.

"The Italian authorities should be applauded for cracking down on illegal activity like this. Internet criminals can use technology to hide their identities, and it can often be a complex Web for the police to untangle," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "Phishing and identity theft are global problems, and countries need to work more closely with each other to bring cyber-criminals to justice. These arrests underline the growing organized nature of international identity theft gangs, but there are many other phishers still at large."