15
Apr 15

POS Providers Feel Brunt of PoSeidon Malware

“PoSeidon,” a new strain of malicious software designed to steal credit and debit card data from hacked point-of-sale (POS) devices, has been implicated in a number of recent breaches involving companies that provide POS services primarily to restaurants, bars and hotels. The shift by the card thieves away from targeting major retailers like Target and Home Depot to attacking countless, smaller users of POS systems is giving financial institutions a run for their money as they struggle to figure out which merchants are responsible for card fraud.

Image: Cisco.

Image: Cisco.

One basic tool that banks use to learn the source of card data theft involves determining a “common point-of-purchase” (CPP) among a given set of customer cards that experience fraud. When a new batch of cards goes on sale at an online crime shop, banks will often purchase a very small number of their stolen cards to determine if the victim customers all shopped at the same merchant across a specific time period.

This same CPP analysis was critical to banks helping this reporter identify some of the biggest retail breaches on record in recent years, and it is a method heavily relied upon by law enforcement agencies to identify breach victims.

But the CPP approach usually falls flat if all of the cards purchased from the fraud shop fail to reveal a common merchant. More seasoned fraud shops have sought to achieve this confusion and confound investigators by “making sausage” — i.e., methodically mixing cards stolen from multiple victims into any single new batch of stolen cards that they offer for sale.

Increasingly, however, fraudsters selling stolen cards don’t need to make sausage: The victims that are leaking card data are already subsets of restaurant franchises or retail establishments whose only commonality is the branded point-of-sale device which they rely upon to process customer card transactions.

NEXTEP

Card breaches involving POS devices sold by the same vendor are notoriously hard for financial institutions to diagnose because the banks very often have a direct relationship with neither the POS vendor nor the breached restaurant or bar whose customers’ cards were stolen.

nextepWhat’s more, POS-specific breaches frequently tie back to a subset of customers of a POS vendor who in turn rely on local IT company to install and support the POS systems. The commonality among breached restaurants and bars tends to be those who have relied on a support firm that invariably enables remote access to the POS systems via tools like pcAnywhere or LogMeIn using the same or easily-guessed username and password across many customer systems. Once remotely authenticated to the targeted systems, thieves can upload malware like POSeidon, which is capable of capturing all card data processed by the victim POS.

A few weeks ago, this reporter broke the news that multiple systems run by POS vendor NEXTEP had experienced a breach. The banks were only able to pinpoint NEXTEP systems as the source because the overwhelming number of merchants impacted in that breached happened to be NEXTEP customers who also were part of the Zoup chain of soup restaurants.

“You may have seen the discussions of the ‘PoSeidon’ malware that specifically targeted point of sale systems,” NEXTEP CEO Tommy Woycik said in a follow-up email. “Within thirty-six hours of the point that we learned of the problem we were able to internally use our resources to block further data compromise with most of our customers.  We retained and worked with two different sets of consultants to fix all remaining problems and to evaluate, on an ongoing basis, the effectiveness of the fixes.”

Woycik said the company also is investigating why the vast majority of its customers had no compromise of information, but that the hack was limited to a few identified locations. Part of the problem was that some of the breached locations relied on point-of-sale management firms that refused to cooperate in the investigation.

“We have been somewhat hampered in our investigation because some parties involved in the locations that we believe may have been affected have been unwilling to provide us with critical data,” he said.

Continue reading →


14
Apr 15

Critical Updates for Windows, Flash, Java

Get your patch chops on people, because chances are you’re running software from Microsoft, Adobe or Oracle that received critical security updates today. Adobe released a Flash Player update to fix at least 22 flaws, including one flaw that is being actively exploited. Microsoft pushed out 11 update bundles to fix more than two dozen bugs in Windows and associated software, including one that was publicly disclosed this month. And Oracle has an update for its Java software that addresses at least 15 flaws, all of which are exploitable remotely without any authentication.

brokenflash-aAdobe’s patch includes a fix for a zero-day bug (CVE-2015-3043) that the company warns is already being exploited. Users of the Adobe Flash Player for Windows and Macintosh should update to Adobe Flash Player 17.0.0.169 (the current versions other OSes is listed in the chart below).

If you’re unsure whether your browser has Flash installed or what version it may be running, browse to this link. Adobe Flash Player installed with Google Chrome, as well as Internet Explorer on Windows 8.x, should automatically update to version 17.0.0.169.

Google has an update available for Chrome that fixes a slew of flaws, and I assume it includes this Flash update, although the Flash checker pages only report that I now have version 17.0.0 installed after applying the Chrome update and restarting (the Flash update released last month put that version at 17.0.0.134, so this is not particularly helpful). To force the installation of an available update, click the triple bar icon to the right of the address bar, select “About Google” Chrome, click the apply update button and restart the browser.

The most recent versions of Flash should be available from the Flash home page, but beware potentially unwanted add-ons, like McAfee Security Scan. To avoid this, uncheck the pre-checked box before downloading, or grab your OS-specific Flash download from here. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.).

brokenwindowsMicrosoft has released 11 security bulletins this month, four of which are marked “critical,” meaning attackers or malware can exploit them to break into vulnerable systems with no help from users, save for perhaps visiting a booby-trapped or malicious Web site. The Microsoft patches fix flaws in Windows, Internet Explorer (IE), Office, and .NET

The critical updates apply to two Windows bugs, IE, and Office. .NET updates have a history of taking forever to apply and introducing issues when applied with other patches, so I’d suggest Windows users apply all other updates, restart and then install the .NET update (if available for your system). Continue reading →


13
Apr 15

White Lodging Confirms Second Breach

In February 2015, KrebsOnSecurity reported that for the second time in a year, multiple financial institutions were complaining of fraud on customer credit and debit cards that were all recently used at a string of hotel properties run by hotel franchise firm White Lodging Services Corporation. The company said at the time that it had no evidence of a new breach, but last week White Lodging finally acknowledged a “suspected” breach of point-of-sale systems at 10 locations.

whitelodgingBanking sources back in February 2015 told this author that the cards compromised in this most recent incident looked like they were stolen from many of the same White Lodging locations implicated in the 2014 breach, including hotels in Austin, Texas, Bedford Park, Ill., Denver, Indianapolis, and Louisville, Kentucky.  Those sources said the compromises appear once again to be tied to hacked cash registers at food and beverage establishments within the White Lodging run hotels. The sources said the fraudulent card charges that stemmed from the breach ranged from mid-September 2014 to January 2015.

In a press release issued April 8, 2015, White Lodging announced the “suspected breach of point of sales systems at food and beverage outlets, such as restaurants and lounges, from the period July 3, 2014 through February 6, 2015 at 10 properties.

While it acknowledged some of the locations breached this time around were the same as last year’s victim locations, the company emphasized that this was a separate breach.

“After suffering a malware incident in 2014, we took various actions to prevent a recurrence, including engaging a third party security firm to provide security technology and managed services,” wrote Dave Sibley, White Lodging president and CEO, Hospitality Management. “These security measures were unable to stop the current malware occurrence on point of sale systems at food and beverage outlets in 10 hotels that we manage.  We continue to remain committed to investing in the measures necessary to protect the personal information entrusted to us by our valuable guests.  We deeply regret and apologize for this situation.”

White Lodging said the stolen data includes names printed on customers’ credit or debit cards, credit or debit card numbers, and the security code and card expiration dates. Naturally, White Lodging is offering a year’s worth of credit protection services for customers impacted by the breach, from Experian.


10
Apr 15

Don’t Be Fodder for China’s ‘Great Cannon’

China has been actively diverting unencrypted Web traffic destined for its top online search service — Baidu.com — so that some visitors from outside of the country were unwittingly enlisted in a novel and unsettling series of denial-of-service attacks aimed at sidelining sites that distribute anti-censorship tools, according to research released this week.

The findings, published in a joint paper today by researchers with University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) and the University of California, Berkeley, track a remarkable development in China’s increasingly public display of its evolving cyber warfare prowess.

“Their willingness to be so public mystifies me,” said Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the ICSI who helped dig through the clues about the mysterious attack. “But it does appear to be a very public statement about their capabilities.”

greatcannon

Earlier this month, Github — an open-source code repository — and greatfire.org, which distributes software to help Chinese citizens evade censorship restrictions enacted by the so-called “Great Firewall of China,” found themselves on the receiving end of a massive and constantly-changing attack apparently designed to prevent people from being able to access the sites.

Experts have long known that China’s Great Firewall is capable of blocking Web surfers from within the country from accessing online sites that host content which is deemed prohibited by the Chinese government. But according to researchers, this latest censorship innovation targeted Web surfers from outside the country who were requesting various pages associated with Baidu, such that Internet traffic from a small percentage of surfers outside the country was quietly redirected toward Github and greatfire.org.

This attack method, which the researchers have dubbed the “Great Cannon,” works by intercepting non-Chinese traffic to Baidu Web properties, Weaver explained.

“It only intercepts traffic to a certain set of Internet addresses, and then only looks for specific script requests. About 98 percent of the time it sends the Web request straight on to Baidu, but about two percent of the time it says, ‘Okay, I’m going to drop the request going to Baidu,’ and instead it directly provides the malicious reply, replying with a bit of Javascript which causes the user’s browser to participate in a DOS attack, Weaver said. Continue reading →


07
Apr 15

FBI Warns of Fake Govt Sites, ISIS Defacements

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is warning that individuals sympathetic to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) are mass-defacing Websites using known vulnerabilities in WordPress. The FBI also issued an alert advising that criminals are hosting fraudulent government Web sites in a bid to collect personal and financial information from unwitting Web searchers.

fbilogoAccording to the FBI, ISIS sympathizers are targeting WordPress Web sites and the communication platforms of news organizations, commercial entities, religious institutions, federal/state/local governments, foreign governments, and a variety of other domestic and international sites. The agency said the attackers are mainly exploiting known flaws in WordPress plug-ins for which security updates are already available.

The public service announcement (PSA) coincides with a less public alert that the FBI released to its InfraGard members, a partnership between the FBI and private industry partners. That alert noted that several extremist hacking groups indicated they would participate in an operation dubbed #OpIsrael, which will target Israeli and Jewish Web sites to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day (Apr .15-16).

“The FBI assesses members of at least two extremist hacking groups are currently recruiting participants for the second anniversary of the operation, which started on 7 April 2013, and coincides with Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the InfraGard alert notes. “These groups, typically located in the Middle East and North Africa, routinely conduct pro-extremist, anti-Israeli, and anti-Western cyber operations.”

Experts say there may be no actual relationship between these defacements and Islamist militants. In any case, if you run a Web site powered by WordPress — or any other content management system (CMS) — please take a few moments today to ensure that the CMS itself is up-to-date with the latest patches, and apply all available fixes for any installed plug-ins. Continue reading →


06
Apr 15

Hacking ATMs, Literally

Most of the ATM skimming attacks written about on this blog conclude with security personnel intervening before the thieves manage to recover their skimmers along with the stolen card data and PINs. However, an increasingly common form of ATM fraud — physical destruction — costs banks plenty, even when crooks walk away with nothing but bruised egos and sore limbs.

An ATM technician and KrebsOnSecurity reader shared photos of a recent attack in which three would-be robbers went to town on a wall-mounted cash machine with crowbars and hammers.

Thieves with crowbars did massive and costly damage to this ATM, but were thwarted in cracking the safe.

Thieves with crowbars did massive and costly damage to this ATM, but were thwarted in cracking the safe.

According to the technician, the burglars ruined a $13,000 cash acceptor, a $5,000 check scanner, a $900 monitor, and a $700 card reader, among many other pricey items. Hardly any part of the machine escaped damage.

This thief-ravaged ATM is totaled.

This thief-ravaged ATM is totaled.

The carnage from this incident looks like something out of a bad Transformers movie.

Decepticons, attack!

Decepticons, attack!

Continue reading →


01
Apr 15

‘Revolution’ Crimeware & EMV Replay Attacks

In October 2014, KrebsOnSecurity examined a novel “replay” attack that sought to exploit implementation weaknesses at U.S. financial institutions that were in the process of transitioning to more secure chip-based credit and debit cards. Today’s post looks at one service offered in the cybercrime underground to help thieves perpetrate this type of fraud.

Several U.S. financial institutions last year reported receiving tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit and debit card transactions coming from Brazil and hitting card accounts stolen in recent retail heists, principally cards compromised as part of the October 2014 breach at Home Depot. The affected banks were puzzled by the attacks because the fraudulent transactions were all submitted through Visa and MasterCard‘s networks as chip-enabled transactions, even though the banks that issued the cards in question hadn’t yet begun sending customers chip-enabled cards.

Seller in underground forum describes his "Revolution" software to conduct  EMV card fraud against banks that haven't implemented EMV correctly .

Seller in underground forum describes his “Revolution” software to conduct EMV card fraud against banks that haven’t implemented EMV fully.

Fraud experts said the most likely explanation for the activity was that crooks were pushing regular magnetic stripe transactions through the card network as chip card purchases using a technique known as a “replay” attack. According to one bank interviewed at the time, MasterCard officials explained that the thieves were likely in control of a payment terminal and had the ability to manipulate data fields for transactions put through that terminal. After capturing traffic from a real chip-based chip card transaction, the thieves could insert stolen card data into the transaction stream, while modifying the merchant and acquirer bank account data on-the-fly.

Recently, KrebsOnSecurity encountered a fraudster in a popular cybercrime forum selling a fairly sophisticated software-as-a-service package to do just that. The seller, a hacker who reportedly specializes in selling skimming products to help thieves steal card data from ATMs and point-of-sale devices, calls his product “Revolution” and offers to provide buyers with a list of U.S. financial institutions that have not fully or properly implemented systems for accepting and validating chip-card transactions. Continue reading →


30
Mar 15

Sign Up at irs.gov Before Crooks Do It For You

If you’re an American and haven’t yet created an account at irs.gov, you may want to take care of that before tax fraudsters create an account in your name and steal your personal and tax data in the process.

Screenshot 2015-03-29 14.22.55Recently, KrebsOnSecurity heard from Michael Kasper, a 35-year-old reader who tried to obtain a copy of his most recent tax transcript with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Kasper said he sought the transcript after trying to file his taxes through the desktop version of TurboTax, and being informed by TurboTax that the IRS had rejected the request because his return had already been filed.

Kasper said he phoned the IRS’s identity theft hotline (800-908-4490) and was told a direct deposit was being made that very same day for his tax refund — a request made with his Social Security number and address but to be deposited into a bank account that he didn’t recognize.

“Since I was alerting them that this transaction was fraudulent, their privacy rules prevented them from telling me any more information, such as the routing number and account number of that deposit,” Kasper said. “They basically admitted this was to protect the privacy of the criminal, not because they were going to investigate right away. In fact, they were very clear that the matter would not be investigated further until a fraud affidavit and accompanying documentation were processed by mail.”

In the following weeks, Kasper contacted the IRS, who told him they had no new information on his case. When he tried to get a transcript of the fraudulent return using the “Get Transcript” function on IRS.gov, he learned that someone had already registered through the IRS’s site using his Social Security number and an unknown email address.

“When I called the IRS to fix this, and spent another hour on hold, they explained they could not tell me what the email address was due to privacy regulations,” Kasper recalled. “They also said they could not change the email address, all they could do was ban access to eServices for my account, which they did. It was something at least.”

FORM 4506

Undeterred, Kasper researched further and discovered that he could still obtain a copy of the fraudulent return by filling out the IRS Form 4506 (PDF) and paying a $50 processing fee. Several days later, the IRS mailed Kasper a photocopy of the fraudulent return filed in his name — complete with the bank routing and account number that received the $8,936 phony refund filed in his name.

“That’s right, $50 just for the right to see my own return,” Kasper said. “And once again the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing, because it cost me just $50 to get them to ignore their own privacy rules. The most interesting thing about this strange rule is that the IRS also refuses to look at the account data itself until it is fully investigated. Banks are required by law to report suspicious refund deposits, but the IRS does not even bother to contact banks to let them know a refund deposit was reported fraudulent, at least in the case of individual taxpayers who call, confirm their identity and report it, just like I did.”

Kasper said the transcript indicates the fraudsters filed his refund request using the IRS web site’s own free e-file website for those with incomes over $60,000. It also showed the routing number for First National Bank of Pennsylvania and the checking account number of the individual who got the deposit plus the date that they filed: January 31, 2015.

The transcript suggests that the fraudsters who claimed his refund had done so by copying all of the data from his previous year’s W2, and by increasing the previous year’s amounts slightly. Kasper said he can’t prove it, but he believes the scammers obtained that W2 data directly from the IRS itself, after creating an account at the IRS portal in his name (but using a different email address) and requesting his transcript.

“The person who submitted it somehow accessed my tax return from the previous year 2013 in order to list my employer and salary from that year, 2013, then use it on the 2014 return, instead,” Kasper said. “In addition, they also submitted a corrected W-2 that increased the withholding amount by exactly $6,000 to increase their total refund due to $8,936.”

MONEY MULING

On Wednesday, March 18, 2015, Kasper contacted First National Bank of Pennsylvania whose routing number was listed in the phony tax refund request, and reached their head of account security. That person confirmed a direct deposit by the IRS for $8,936.00 was made on February 9, 2015 into an individual checking account specifying Kasper’s full name and SSN in the metadata with the deposit.

“She told me that she could also see transactions were made at one or more branches in the city of Williamsport, PA to disburse or withdraw those funds and that several purchases were made by debit card in the city of Williamsport as well, so that at this point a substantial portion of the funds were gone,” Kasper said. “She further told me that no one from the IRS had contacted her bank to raise any questions about this account, despite my fraud report filed February 9, 2015.”

The head of account security at the bank stated that she would be glad to cooperate with the Williamsport Police if they provided the required legal request to allow her to release the name, address, and account details. The bank officer offered Kasper her office phone number and cell phone to share with the cops. The First National employee also mentioned that the suspect lived in the city of Williamsport, PA, and that this individual seemed to still be using the account.

Kasper said the local police in his New York hometown hadn’t bothered to respond to his request for assistance, but that the lieutenant at the Williamsport police department who heard his story took pity on him and asked him to write an email about the incident to his captain, which Kasper said he sent later that morning.

Just two hours later, he received a call from an investigator who had been assigned to the case. The detective then interviewed the individual who held the account the same day and told Kasper that the bank’s fraud department was investigating and had asked the person to return the cash.

“My tax refund fraud case had gone from stuck in the mud to an open case, almost overnight,” Kasper sad. “Or at least it seemed to be that simple. It turned out to be much more complex.”

For starters, the woman who owned the bank account that received his phony refund — a student at a local Pennsylvania university — said she got the transfer after responding to a Craigslist ad for a moneymaking opportunity.

Kasper said the detective learned that money was deposited into her account, and that she sent the money out to locations in Nigeria via Western Union wire transfer, keeping some as a profit, and apparently never suspecting that she might be doing something illegal.

“She has so far provided a significant amount of information, and I’m inclined to believe her story,” Kasper said. “Who would be crazy enough to deposit a fraudulent tax refund in their own checking account, as opposed to an untraceable debit card they could get at a convenience store. At the same time, wouldn’t somebody who could pull this off also have an explanation like this ready?”

The woman in question, whose name is being withheld from this story, declined multiple requests to speak with KrebsOnSecurity, threatening to file harassment claims if I didn’t stop trying to contact her. Nevertheless, she appears to have been an unwitting — if not unwilling — money mule in a scam that seeks to recruit the unwary for moneymaking schemes. Continue reading →


26
Mar 15

Who Is the Antidetect Author?

Earlier this month I wrote about Antidetect, a commercial tool designed to help thieves evade fraud detection schemes employed by many e-commerce companies. That piece walked readers through a sales video for Antidetect showing the software being used to buy products online with stolen credit cards. Today, we’ll take a closer look at clues to a possible real-life identity of this tool’s creator.

The author of Antidetect uses the nickname “Byte Catcher,” and advertises on several crime forums that he can be reached at the ICQ address 737084, and at the jabber instant messaging handles “byte.catcher@xmpp.ru” and “byte.catcher@0nl1ne.at”. His software is for sale at antidetect[dot]net and antidetect[dot]org.

Antidetect is marketed to fraudsters involved in ripping off online stores.

Antidetect is marketed to fraudsters involved in ripping off online stores.

Searching on that ICQ number turns up a post on a Russian forum from 2006, wherein a fifth-year computer science student posting under the name “pavelvladimirovich” says he is looking for a job and that he can be reached at the following contact points:

ICQ: 737084

Skype name: pavelvladimirovich1

email: gpvx@yandex.ru

According to a reverse WHOIS lookup ordered from Domaintools.com, that email address is the same one used to register the aforementioned antidetect[dot]org, as well as antifraud[dot]biz and hwidspoofer[dot]com (HWID is short for hardware identification, a common method that software makers use to ensure a given program license can only be used on one computer).

These were quite recent registrations (mid-2014), but that gpvx@yandex.ru email also was used to register domains in 2007, including allfreelance[dot]org and a domain called casinohackers[dot]com. Interestingly, one of the main uses that Byte Catcher advertises for his Antidetect software is to help beat fraud detection mechanisms used by online casinos. As we can see from this page at archive.org, a subsection of casinohackers.com was at one time dedicated to advertising Antidetect Patch — a version that comes with its own virtual machine.

That ICQ number is tied to a user named “collisionsoftware” at the Russian cybercrime forum antichat[dot]ru, in which the seller is advertising software that routes the user’s Internet connection through hacked PCs. He directs interested buyers to the web site cn[dot]viamk[dot]com, which is no longer online. But an archived version of that page at archive.org shows the same “collision” name and the words “freelance team.” The contact form on this site also lists the above-referenced ICQ number and email gpvx@yandex.ru, and even includes a résumé of the site’s owner.

Another domain connected to that antichat profile is cnsoft[dot]ru, the now defunct domain for Collision Software, which bills itself as a firm that can be hired to write software. The homepage lists the same ICQ number (737084).

The ICQ.com profile page for that number includes links to accounts on Russian fraud forums that are all named “Mysterious Killer.” In one of those accounts, on the fraud forum exploit[dot]in, Mysterious Killer lists the same Jabber and ICQ addresses, and offers a variety of services, including a tool to mass-check PayPal account credentials, as well as a full instructional course on click-fraud.

Antidetect retails for between $399 and $999, and includes live support.

Antidetect retails for between $399 and $999, and includes (somewhat unreliable) live support.

Both antifraud[dot]biz and allfreelance[dot]org were originally registered by an individual in Kaliningrad, Russia named Pavel V. Golub. Note that this name matches the initials in the email address gpvx@yandex.ru. KrebsOnSecurity has yet to receive a response to inquiries sent to that email and to the above-referenced Skype profile. Update, 1:05 p.m.: Pavel replied to my email, denying that he produced the video selling his software. “My software was cracked few years ago and then it as spreaded, selled by other people,” he wrote. Meanwhile, someone has started deleting photos and other items linked in this story.

Original story:

A little searching turns up this profile on Russian social networking giant Odnoklassniki.ru for one Pavel Golub, a 29-year-old male from Koenig, Russia. Written in Russian as “Кениг,” this is Russian slang for Kaliningrad and refers to the city’s previous German name.

One of Pavel’s five friends on Odnoklassniki is 27-year-old Vera Golub, also of Kaliningrad. A search of “Vera Golub, Kaliningrad” on vkontakte.com — Russia’s version of Facebook — reveals a vk.com group in Kaliningrad about artificial fingernails that has two contacts: Vera Ivanova (referred to as “master” in this group), and Pavel Vladimirovich (listed as “husband”). Continue reading →


25
Mar 15

Tax Fraud Advice, Straight from the Scammers

Some of the most frank and useful information about how to fight fraud comes directly from the mouths of the crooks themselves. Online cybercrime forums play a critical role here, allowing thieves to compare notes about how to evade new security roadblocks and steer clear of fraud tripwires. And few topics so reliably generate discussion on crime forums around this time of year as tax return fraud, as we’ll see in the conversations highlighted in this post.

File 'em Before the Bad Guys Can

File ‘em Before the Bad Guys Can

As several stories these past few months have noted, those involved in tax refund fraud shifted more of their activities away from the Internal Revenue Service and toward state tax filings. This shift is broadly reflected in discussions on several fraud forums from 2014, in which members lament the apparent introduction of new fraud “filters” by the IRS that reportedly made perpetrating this crime at the federal level more challenging for some scammers.

One outspoken and unrepentant tax fraudster — a ne’er-do-well using the screen name “Peleus” — reported that he had far more luck filing phony returns at the state level last year. Peleus posted the following experience to a popular fraud forum in February 2014:

“Just wanted to share a bit of my results to see if everyone is doing so bad or it just me…Federal this year has been a pain in the ass. I have about 35 applications made for federal with only 2 paid refunds…I started early in January (15-20) on TT [TurboTax] and HR [H&R Block] and made about 35 applications on Federal and State..My stats are as follows:

Federal: 35 applications (less than 10% approval rate) – average per return $2500

State: 35 apps – 15 approved (average per return $1600). State works just as great as last year, their approval rate is nearly 50% and processing time no more than 10 – 12 days.

I know that the IRS has new check filters this year but federals suck big time this year, i only got 2 refunds approved from 35 applications …all my federals are between $2300 – $2600 which is the average refund amount in the US so i wouldn’t raise any flags…I also put a small yearly salary like 25-30k….All this precautions and my results still suck big time compared to last year when i had like 30%- 35% approval rate …what the fuck changed this year? Do they check the EIN from last year’s return so you need his real employer information?”

A seasoned tax return fraudster discusses strategy.

A seasoned tax return fraudster discusses strategy.

Several seasoned members of this fraud forum responded that the IRS had indeed become more strict in validating whether the W2 information supplied by the filer had the proper Employer Identification Number (EIN), a unique tax ID number assigned to each company. The fraudsters then proceeded to discuss various ways to mine social networking sites like LinkedIn for victims’ employer information.

GET YER EINs HERE

A sidebar is probably in order here. EINs are not exactly state secrets. Public companies publish their EINs on the first page of their annual 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Still, EINs for millions of small companies here in the United States are not so easy to find, and many small business owners probably treat this information as confidential.

Nevertheless, a number of organizations specialize in selling access to EINs. One of the biggest is Dun & Bradstreet, which, as I detailed in a 2013 exposé, Data Broker Giants Hacked by ID Theft Service, was compromised for six months by a service selling Social Security numbers and other data to identity thieves like Peleus.

Last year, I heard from a source close to the investigation into the Dun & Bradstreet breach who said the thieves responsible made off with more than six million EINs. In December 2014, I asked Dun &Bradstreet about the veracity of this claim, and received a blanket statement that did not address the six million figure, but stressed that EINs are not personally identifiable information and are available to the public. Continue reading →