The U.S. Justice Department has piled on more charges against alleged cybercrime kingpin Roman Seleznev, a Russian national who made headlines in July when it emerged that he’d been whisked away to Guam by U.S. federal agents while vacationing in the Maldives. The additional charges against Seleznev may help explain the extended downtime at an extremely popular credit card fraud shop in the cybercrime underground.
The government alleges that the hacker known in the underground as “nCux” and “Bulba” was Roman Seleznev, a 30-year-old Russian citizen who was arrested in July 2014 by the U.S. Secret Service. According to Russian media reports, the young man is the son of a prominent Russian politician.
Seleznev was initially identified by the government in 2012, when it named him as part of a conspiracy involving more than three dozen popular merchants on carder[dot]su, a bustling fraud forum where Bulba and other members openly marketed various cybercrime-oriented services (see the original indictment here).
According to Seleznev’s original indictment, he was allegedly part of a group that hacked into restaurants between 2009 and 2011 and planted malicious software to steal card data from store point-of-sale devices. The indictment further alleges that Seleznev and unnamed accomplices used his online monikers to sell stolen credit and debit cards at bulba[dot]cc and track2[dot]name. Customers of these services paid for their cards with virtual currencies, including WebMoney and Bitcoin.
But last week, U.S. prosecutors piled on another 11 felony counts against Seleznev, charging that he also sold stolen credit card data on a popular carding store called 2pac[dot]cc. Interestingly, Seleznev’s arrest coincides with a period of extended downtime on 2pac[dot]cc, during which time regular customers of the store could be seen complaining on cybercrime forums where the store was advertised that the proprietor of the shop had gone silent and was no longer responding to customer support inquiries.
A few weeks after Seleznev’s arrest, it appears that someone new began taking ownership of 2pac[dot]cc’s day-to-day operations. That individual recently posted a message on the carding shop’s home page apologizing for the extended outage and stating that fresh, new cards were once again being added to the shop’s inventory.
The message, dated Aug. 8, 2014, explains that the proprietor of the shop was unreachable because he was hospitalized following a car accident:
“Dear customers. We apologize for the inconvenience that you are experiencing now by the fact that there are no updates and [credit card] checker doesn’t work. This is due to the fact that our boss had a car accident and he is in hospital. We will solve all problems as soon as possible. Support always available, thank you for your understanding.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT CUSTOMER SERVICE
2pac is but one of dozens of fraud shops selling stolen debit and credit cards. And with news of new card breaches at major retailers surfacing practically each week, the underground is flush with inventory. The single most important factor that allows individual card shop owners to differentiate themselves among so much choice is providing excellent customer service.
Many card shops, including 2pac[dot]cc, try to keep customers happy by including an a-la-carte card-checking service that allows customers to test purchased cards using compromised merchant accounts — to verify that the cards are still active. Most card shop checkers are configured to automatically refund to the customer’s balance the value of any cards that come back as declined by the checking service.
This same card checking service also is built into rescator[dot]cc, a card shop profiled several times in this blog and perhaps best known as the source of cards stolen from the Target, Sally Beauty, P.F. Chang’s and Home Depot retail breaches. Shortly after breaking the news about the Target breach, I published a lengthy analysis of forum data that suggested Rescator was a young man based in Odessa, Ukraine.
Turns out, Rescator is a major supplier of stolen cards to other, competing card shops, including swiped1[dot]su — a carding shop that’s been around in various forms since at least 2008. That information came in a report (PDF) released today by Russian computer security firm Group-IB, which said it discovered a secret way to view the administrative statistics for the swiped1[dot]su Web site. Group-IB found that a user named Rescator was by far the single largest supplier of stolen cards to the shop, providing some 5,306,024 cards to the shop over the years.
Group-IB also listed the stats on how many of Rescator’s cards turned out to be useful for cybercriminal customers. Of the more than five million cards Rescator contributed to the shop, only 151,720 (2.8 percent) were sold. Another 421,801 expired before they could be sold. A total of 42,626 of the 151,720 — or about 28 percent – of Rescator’s cards that were sold on Swiped1[dot]su came back as declined when run through the site’s checking service.
Many readers have asked why the thieves responsible for the card breach at Home Depot collected cards from Home Depot customers for five months before selling the cards (on Rescator’s site, of course). After all, stolen credit cards don’t exactly age gracefully or grow more valuable over time.
One possible explanation — supported by the swiped1[dot]su data and by my own reporting on this subject — is that veteran fraudsters like Rescator know that only a tiny fraction of stolen cards actually get sold. Based on interviews with several banks that were heavily impacted by the Target breach, for example, I have estimated that although Rescator and his band of thieves managed to steal some 40 million debit and credit card numbers in the Target breach, they likely only sold between one and three million of those cards.
The crooks in the Target breach were able to collect 40 million cards in approximately three weeks, mainly because they pulled the trigger on the heist on or around Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year and the official start of the holiday shopping season in the United States. My guess is that Rescator and his associates understood all too well how many cards they needed to steal from Home Depot to realize a certain number of sales and monetary return for the heist, and that they kept collecting cards until they had hit that magic number.
For anyone who’s interested, the investigation into swiped1[dot]su was part of a larger report that Group-IB published today, available here.