How Cyber-Crooks Turn Stolen Data into Money on eBay

Security researchers say sites such as eBay and Amazon are being roped into schemes by cyber-criminals to turn stolen credit card information into cash.

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Stealing credit card information online doesn't mean much if that can't be translated into real-world cash.

So just how do attackers do that? Lately, they have turned to abusing auction sites such as eBay in a scheme F-Secure calls "quickswapping."

In a quickswapping scheme, a cyber-crook will use sites such as eBay or Amazon to offer an expensive item at a cheap price, explained Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at F-Secure. After a deal is reached, the scammer will make an enticing offer - they will agree to ship the item to the buyer and only accept payment after the person has checked it out.

Next, the scammer will use credit card information he or she previously pilfered with malware such as Zeus to purchase the item and send it to the buyer. After the buyer sends the agreed payment via Western Union or WebMoney, the scammer disappears, leaving the person whose card was stolen with an illegal charge and the quickswapping buyer at risk of having the item confiscated by police as stolen merchandise.

"Bottom line is that when everyday users go to online auctions and look for good value, scenarios like this never occur to them," Hypponen said. "They'd never imagine that the item they are bidding on might not exist at all and instead they are laundering money for online criminals."

While Hypponen said quickswapping is new, it is very similar to a reshipping scam detailed here by RSA, EMC's security arm. In that scenario, cyber-criminals hire "mules" through legitimate job sites to reship items they receive overseas. The mules who received the fraudulently purchased items often have no idea they are doing anything illegal.

"As recently as two or three years ago, these types of scams were run by one to two individuals or groups, but as online fraud increases in both numbers and sophistication there has become a growing need for specialization within each portion of the scam," Joram Borenstein, senior manager of identity protection and verification at RSA, told eWEEK.

"This type of reshipping scam is one of a number of examples of how attackers are laundering money and goods," he continued. "In this scam, we see the use of mules - legitimate folks being duped into working for an illegitimate organization. There (are) also money mules - (these) are folks who agree to have money transferred into their bank accounts, keep the portion of the money and send the rest onwards to another bank account or deliver it through a money transfer organization."

Some of the other more common ways attackers launder money include online poker. Armed with stolen credit card details, scammers can create new gaming accounts to play with, Hypponen explained.

"But he will go into a virtual poker table where all the other players are his own accounts, and when he plays with the new account, he plays badly on purpose - losing money, and thus moving it from the stolen card to his own gaming account," he said. "These accounts can now cash the money back to the real world and it all looks normal....this mostly happens in Europe, Russia and elsewhere where real-money gambling online is perfectly legal."