By: Robert Lemos
Two-dozen people were arrested in 13 countries on June 26, following a two-year undercover FBI investigation into an international credit card fraud ring affecting hundreds of thousands of victims, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Dubbed "Operation Card Shop," the undercover operation targeted all aspects of the credit card fraud, or "carder," operation-from malware developers to credit card data traffickers, from money mules to providers of mail services that accept stolen goods. In total, the credit card fraud operation affected as many as 400,000 victims, and may have prevented tens of millions of dollars in additional losses, according to the DOJ.
"As the cyber-threat grows more international, the response must be increasingly global and forceful," Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. "The coordinated law-enforcement actions taken by an unprecedented number of countries around the world today demonstrate that hackers and fraudsters cannot count on being able to prowl the Internet in anonymity and with impunity, even across national boundaries."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and international law-enforcement agencies arrested dozens of suspects in the United States, United Kingdom, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Italy, Japan, Norway and Germany. In addition, police in Australia, Canada, Denmark and Macedonia conducted interviews and executed search warrants. The arrests made the operation "the largest coordinated international law-enforcement action in history directed at" online credit card thieves and fraudsters, said Bharara.
While past undercover operations have shown that the FBI has the depth of skills to pursue online thieves, criminals hacking across national borders have always posed jurisdictional issues for investigators. Operation Card Shop shows that the United States and other countries are making progress in tackling the difficulties, says Angel Grant, senior manager of anti-fraud solutions at security-solutions provider RSA.
"It really shows how international coordination and working together in the investigations and arrests can really help capture fraudsters," said Grant. "Traditionally, in the past, we have not seen as strong an international or cross-organizational collaboration in either the public or private sectors."
"Carding" consists of a variety of criminal activities organized around stealing personal and financial information, including credit and debit cards, and using that information to purchase goods or steal money directly. Money mules help launder the goods or money and send a percentage back to the leaders of the organization. In June 2010, the FBI embarked on an undercover operation, creating a forum known as "Carder Profit," where members of the criminal underground could discuss carder techniques and buy and sell stolen information.
The FBI investigated the alleged criminal activity and used information gleaned from the site to warn 47 companies of breaches of their networks.