The Biggest Fraud, Ever

If you want to steal a small amount of money, walk into a bank and hand the teller a note. If you want to steal a fairly large amount of money, rob an armored car. If you want to steal a tremendously, uncountably massive amount of money… start a bank and do it a fraction of a percentage point at a time.

So often in security we focus on the big, flashy attacks. But sometimes the ones to worry about look like grains of sand. (Just askk Cliff Stoll.)

“On the morning of March 27, 2008, Tan Chi Min, Danziger’s boss in Tokyo, told him to make sure the next day’s submission in yen would increase, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its March issue.[…]

The next morning, RBS said it would have to pay 0.97 percent to borrow in yen for three months, up from 0.94 percent the previous day. The Edinburgh-based bank was the only one of 16 surveyed to raise its submission that day, inflating that day’s rate by one-fifth of a basis point, or 0.002 percent. On a $50 billion portfolio of interest-rate swaps, RBS could have gained as much as $250,000.[…]

Where Libor is set each day affects what families pay on their mortgages, the interest on savings accounts and returns on corporate bonds. Now, banks are facing a reckoning, as prosecutors make arrests, regulators impose fines and lawyers around the world file lawsuits claiming the manipulation pushed homeowners into poverty and deprived brokerage firms of profits.[…]

“We will never know the amounts of money involved, but it has to be the biggest financial fraud of all time,” says Adrian Blundell-Wignall, a special adviser to the secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. “Libor is the basis for calculating practically every derivative known to man.”[…]

The industry faces regulatory penalties of at least $8.7 billion, according to Morgan Stanley analysts. The European Union is leading a probe that could see banks fined as much as 10 percent of their annual revenue. Meanwhile, Libor is being overhauled after the U.K. government ordered a review in September into the way the benchmark is set.”

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