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Two charged over digital queue-jumping scam at JFK airport

A pair of men with alleged links to Russian hackers have been charged with hijacking the digital taxi-ranking system at John F Kennedy (JFK) Airport in New York so they could charge drivers for the privilege of jumping the queue, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) announced.

Daniel Abayev and Peter Leyman allegedly charged $10 a time for this illegal service after using hacker accomplices in Russia to disrupt the electronic system supposed to regulate the influx of cabs to the busy airport in the Big Apple.

“They used their unauthorized access to alter the Dispatch System and move specific taxis to the front of the line, thereby allowing drivers to skip other drivers waiting in the line,” the DoJ claimed. “Taxi drivers learned that they could skip the line by paying through word of mouth, and members of the hacking scheme offered some waivers of the fee in exchange for recruiting other taxi drivers.”

The scheme is believed to have relied on chat threads to relay details to crooked taxi drivers willing to go along with it, for example running a simple message saying “shop open” once the JFK taxi dispatch system had been hacked into.

The scammers also allegedly ran warning messages to drivers, advising them how to remain one step ahead of the law: “DEAR DRIVERS!!!! PLEASE!!!! Do not wait at the gas station in JFK. Please do not go around the CTH [Central Taxi Hold] Lot. You have to be very very carefully [sic].”

Abayev and Leyman, both 48 and of Queens, face years in prison if found guilty: they are each accused of conspiracy to commit “computer intrusion” and could see up to a decade behind bars if convicted.

US Attorney Damian Williams said: “For years, the defendants’ hacking kept honest cab drivers from being able to pick up fares at JFK in the order in which they arrived. Now, thanks to this office’s teamwork with the Port Authority, these defendants are facing serious criminal charges for their alleged cybercrimes.”

Port Authority Inspector General John Gay said: “This sophisticated, internationally coordinated conspiracy allegedly targeted hard-working taxi drivers trying to earn an honest living. The Port Authority has zero tolerance for bad actors violating the law at our facilities.”

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