What Do the Dark Web and Bitcoins Have to Do with Credit Card Fraud and Identity Theft?

The answer is – plenty.

In case you aren’t familiar with the terms, let’s start with a couple of definitions:

Dark web – a collection of websites that exist on an encrypted network and cannot be found by using traditional search methods or visited by traditional browsers

Bitcoins – a worldwide cryptocurrency and digital payment system. Called the first digital currency since the system works without a central repository or single administrator

According to Anna Lothson in a post on Rippleshot in August, the dark web market has become a haven for hackers to access credit card data and then commit credit card fraud. The packaging and auctioning of compromised cards occurs faster than a bank can detect it. The monetization of compromised cards has become a sophisticated industry using the dark web. Also, the reselling of stolen credit and identity data through the dark web is running rampant and creating a whole new business for hackers.

According to Suzanne Woolley in a recent Bloomberg article, high-limit credit cards are selling on the dark web for the bitcoin equivalent of between $10 and $20. Business credit cards are even more valuable as they often have very high or no spending limits.

In addition to credit card data, underground markets also sell full identities of individuals for as little as $10 apiece. They are called fullz – “dossiers that provide enough financial, geographic and biographical information on a victim to facilitate identity theft or other impersonation-based fraud.” Fullz allows fraudsters to get past secret questions asked to verify identity, like your mother’s maiden name. Researchers from SecurWorks, an information security service, recently found one vendor selling W-2 and 1040 tax returns as a package for $30. If a buyer wanted information on the victim’s adjusted gross income, they could get it for an additional $20.

Scary stuff? You bet. And one that an average individual seems defenseless against. It has been suggested that credit monitoring and credit freeze services may offer the only hope of protecting oneself from dark web credit fraud and identity theft. There are numerous credit monitoring services who, for a fee, will notify the customer of activity regarding them posted to the three main credit bureaus. They will also report any suspicious activity or changes to personal information, such as address.

Some believe using a credit freeze is preferable to credit monitoring. A credit freeze allows a user to “seal” their credit reports and use a personal PIN to temporarily “thaw” their accounts if legitimate inquiries are needed. This prevents thieves from establishing new credit in a user’s name even if they have obtained personal information fraudulently.

Credit bureau and information services group Experian has recently been advertising a free “one-time scan” of the dark web scan to see whether your personal information has been compromised. But many believe that even credit monitoring and credit freezes will not stop credit card fraud or identity theft due to the ever-increasing sophistication of thieves on the dark web. Time will tell.

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