The NPR show Planet Money recently aired a fascinating story about the underground online market for stolen credit card numbers. (Click on the link to listen to the audio file.)
Basically, this underground market has many features of legitimate online sales websites (such as eBay or Amazon), but with some curious inversions.
For instance, you can’t get an account unless two other current members (who are also criminals) can “vouch” for you as also being a fellow criminal.
However, to do any kind of “business” they still have to rely on some of the same mechanisms that honest marketplaces use. For instance, there are rating systems for buyers to give feedback on sellers of these stolen credit cards. Getting a good A+ rating as a seller is critical to this sort of “commercial” success. Many sellers also have FAQ’s (“Do you offer discounts for bulk purchases?”, etc.) that mirror the sorts of FAQs one sees on eBay.
Of course, the transactions are conducted not via credit card (heh), but through other forms of secure digital currency.
Other funny/bizarre tidbits:
- The site moderator warns users not to use ALL CAPS in their posts, otherwise, they’ll be banned.
- Many of the big operations end up functioning like real businesses, hiring employees, etc. In other words, they “successful” bad guys have to work hard for their ill-gotten gains — which makes one wonder why they don’t just get honest jobs.
As I listened to the story, it really struck me how the bad guys were in so many ways parasitical upon methods and practices of genuine honest producers.
The full story lasts about 30 minutes and I highly recommend listening to the whole thing! (Download the audio file.)