April 20, 2010

A call service that catered to bank and identity thieves has been busted up by U.S. and international authorities. The takedown provides a fascinating glimpse into a bustling and relatively crowded niche of fraud services in the criminal hacker underground.

In an indictment unsealed on Monday, New York authorities said two Belarusian nationals suspected of operating a rent-a-fraudster service called Callservice.biz were arrested overseas. Wired.com’s Kim Zetter has the lowdown:

According to the indictment (.pdf), the two entrepreneurs launched the site in Lithuania in June 2007 and filled a much-needed niche in the criminal world — providing English- and German-speaking “stand-ins” to help crooks thwart bank security screening measures.

In order to conduct certain transactions — such as initiating wire transfers, unblocking accounts or changing the contact information on an account — some financial institutions require the legitimate account holder to authorize the transaction by phone.

Thieves could provide the stolen account information and biographical information of the account holder to CallService.biz, along with instructions about what needed to be authorized. The biographical information sometimes included the account holder’s name, address, Social Security number, e-mail address and answers to security questions the financial institution might ask, such as the age of the victim’s father when the victim was born, the nickname of the victim’s oldest sibling or the city where the victim was married.

U.S. authorities have seized the Callservice.biz Web site, which now features the seals for the FBI and Justice Department prominently on its homepage. The feds also seized Cardingworld.cc, a highly-restricted online criminal forum where Callservice.biz was hosted.

If you spend any amount of time on underground forums like Cardingworld.cc, however, you’ll quickly discover that these criminal call centers are among the most popular of fraud services offered. For example, another fraud forum — Verified.su — is home to a number of calling services. Among them are two competing call centers that each began as point-and-click fraud shops that helped customers purchase electronics with stolen credit cards and then split the profits after selling the goods on eBay.

One such service, Atlanta Alliance, used to offer paying members a password-protected Web site where customers could select a range of high-priced gadgets — such as digital cameras, laptops and smart phones — that could be bought with stolen credit cards. The service even allowed customers to manage the shipment of these products to awaiting “reshipping mules,” individuals in the United States recruited for the purpose of receiving stolen goods and reshipping them to Russia, Ukraine and other nations where many vendors refuse to ship due to the high incidence of fraud from those areas.

Another service, offered by a Verified.su member called CallsManager, began as a similar fraud shopping-and-shipping service called Aegis Team. The Aegis Team store, appropriately named the “Fraud Shop,” let customers select from a variety of name brand online stores from which to purchase electronics, manage the shipments to and from specific mules, and track the shipments every step of the way.

AegisTeam appears to have closed up shop, but CallsManager still advertises a call center that charges just $10 per call, male or female. Atlanta Alliance still advertises the ability to purchase stolen goods on behalf of clients. It also boasts more than a dozen call center operators who specialize in contacting banks and online stores in the United States and Europe, promising “a personal approach to each client.”

14 thoughts on “Call Centers for Computer Criminals

  1. BK

    Interesting to see another aspect of the crimeware business enter the limelight. This is definitely one that is under-reported. Thanks for post.

  2. MichaelFigueroa

    Brian – It’s really great how much you are dissecting the “business model” for this fraudulent activity. You’ve given us a lot of fuel to convince folks that the attackers are much more organized that the public perceives, often mimicking standard business models to deploy efficient fraud models. I’ve been having a lot of conversations with small business owners and they are really beginning to get it.

  3. Mark Ratledge

    So how convincing are these call center operators? Are they Europeans who know English as an accented, second language, and do they fail with talking to the banks sometimes because of their lack of fluency? (Or are the call center operators “outsourced” to Iowa?) At the bank service centers they call, do they end up speaking with outsourced employees who more easily fall for the scam?

    1. Merchant

      Yes they are a huge call service and they have offices in all states. Buy the only in USA people speak only English and sometimes Spanish.

      I wonder why you are not showing the pictures of the guys who was busted? I’d like to see faces of that guys who used to still money so easy

  4. Peter

    Hi Brian,

    can you please comment on shipito.com, an Calif company which officially offers “reshipping” services including to Russia and Ukraine? Are they linked to that gangs or what?


  5. Information Technology Forums

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  6. Jantzen

    Its good to read article like this knowing that there is really existing call centers like this, and I’m now I’m aware on how they convince people with their fraud shops.

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