Are your credit card details for sale to the highest bidder?

3rd May 2012  

Dozens of websites offering the personal details of credit card holders for sale to the highest bidder have been shut down in an international Police operation. The UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) has reported that raids in countries as far away as Australia and the USA, as well as across the UK and Europe have been successful following a two-year joint operation by law enforcement agencies. (See the BBC video report on the SOCA action.)

It’s one of the first times that the Internet has been actively ‘policed’ by outside agencies, and has effectively stopped millions of unsuspecting victims suffering from identity theft. SOCA says that credit card and bank account details were available for as little as £2. The operation has resulted in numerous arrests across the world and the closure of 36 websites.

This blatant trade in personal details has been going on for at least two years, and during that time the personal details of more than 2½ million credit cards were recovered. This has prevented possible fraud that could have amounted to a colossal half a billion pounds. The operation was described by Lee Miles, the head of SOCA’s Cyber-Crime Unit, as “on an industrial scale”.

Going after the brains behind the credit card phishing

For this particular operation, SOCA and their counterparts around the world including the FBI used a different tactic. Rather than going after the ‘front-end fraudsters’, they targeted the hackers and code-writers. These were the people who sent out the phishing emails that lured many people into giving their details up to the criminal gangs, and the code-writers who enabled websites to cope with selling colossal amounts of data. “I’d rather arrest 10 code writers than 1,000 front-end fraudsters,” commented Lee Miles.

SOCA is calling on ISPs to stop allowing individuals to register websites anonymously, as this is often one of the first steps in setting up an illegal or criminal website.

Miles went on to say

“What we are trying to do is influence the ISP industry to introduce more secure systems so they do know who is registering these sites, for them to have a more comprehensive customer database, and do more aimed at preventing criminals buying existing redundant websites and using them for criminal ends.”

But Mr Miles and his colleagues at SOCA could face an uphill battle when it comes to getting the co-operation of some ISPs. Service providers, while applauding the capture of criminals that could have cost the banking system hundreds of millions of pounds, feel uneasy about being ‘policed’ in this way and are reluctant to agree to anything that could be seen as an infringement on their freedoms.

Others argue that to prevent Cyber-Crime (widely recognised as one of the biggest potential threats facing consumers, governments and business) from exploding, some form of control has to be put in place.

The co-operation of law enforcement agencies in this instance shows that the Internet can be intelligently controlled to an extent. But it is going to need the co-operation of more than just the ‘Feds’ if people are to be reassured that their credit card details and other personal information are truly safe out on the internet.

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