November 29, 2012

An online service boldly advertised in the cyber underground lets miscreants hire accomplices in several major U.S. cities to help empty bank accounts, steal tax refunds and intercept fraudulent purchases of high-dollar merchandise.

The service, advertised on exclusive, Russian-language forums that cater to cybercrooks, claims to have willing and ready foot soldiers for hire in California, Florida, Illinois and New York. These associates are not mere “money mules,” unwitting and inexperienced Americans tricked and cajoled into laundering money after being hired for bogus work-at-home jobs. Rather, as the title of the ad for this service makes clear, the “foreign agents” available through this network are aware that they will be assisting in illegal activity (the ad refers to them as неразводные “nerazvodni” or “not deceived”). Put simply: These are mules that can be counted on not to freak out or disappear with the cash.

These complicit “foreign agents” in the U.S. can be hired to launder funds stolen through cyberheists and tax fraud.

The rest of the ad reads:

“We provide convenient service to our partners:

  • Unique administrative interface – fast response
  • We will react momentarily to any new task
  • Adapt every action of a money mule to client’s requirements
  • Timely payments via WebMoney/Liberty Reserve/Western Union, cash conversion with WU/MG
  • Cashout of tax return, D + P (dump & PIN, cashout of debit cards stolen via skimming)
  • Receive over mail or expensive merchandise pick up in a store
  • Mules are available for other interesting transactions

We work only by reference.”

The proprietors of this service say it will take 40-45 percent of the value of the theft, depending on the amount stolen. In a follow-up Q&A with potential buyers, the vendors behind this service say it regularly moves $30,000 – $100,000 per day for clients. Specifically, it specializes in cashing out high-dollar bank accounts belonging to hacked businesses, hence the mention high up in the ad of fraudulent wire transfers and automated clearinghouse or ACH payments (ACH is typically how companies execute direct deposit of payroll for their employees).

According to the advertisement, customers of this service get their very own login to a remote panel, where they can interact with the cashout service and monitor the progress of their thievery operations. The service also can be hired to drain bank accounts using counterfeit debit cards obtained through ATM skimmers or hacked point-of-sale devices. The complicit mules will even help cash out refunds from phony state and federal income tax filings — a lucrative form of fraud that, according to the Internal Revenue Service, cost taxpayers $5.2 billion last year.

Foreign Agents is one of the more renowned complicit cashout services in the underground, and has been around for at least three years. The following screen shot was taken from an ad for this service that was placed in several parts of the underground back in 2009. The text reads, “Army of professional [knowing] mules in the USA awaiting your exact commands.”

It’s worth noting that the stereotypical complicit mule traditionally has been a student from Russia or Eastern Europe who is here in the United States on what’s known as a J1 visa, meaning they have the legal right to work for a few months and travel the country for a short time before heading back home. In 2010, the U.S. Justice Department targeted one such network in New York City, charging more than three dozen J1s with knowingly assisting in the theft of funds from organizations that had been victimized by cyber fraud. Most of those charged in that case were either incarcerated or deported, but federal investigators familiar with the crime say there are J1 money mule recruitment networks in nearly every major city in the United States today.

47 thoughts on “Online Service Offers Bank Robbers for Hire

  1. Uzzi

    .oO(If you take into account that since the great crash of 2008 corrupt employees at banks, consultancies and authorities lost their bonuses and shares for leads to ripoffs – in-house and from third parties – and tie together supply and demand maybe you find a market to procure highly profitable targets to cybercrooks as well…)

  2. bob

    “momentarily” means “for a moment” not “in a moment”.

    When USAian waiters say to me, “I’ll be with you momentarily”, as they do so often, their tip instantly drops to 0 whether or not they actually spend more than a moment with me.

    1. Moike

      There’s a second meaning from the dictionary:
      – adverb
      1. At any moment; imminently: ‘expected to occur momentarily’.

    2. Bob


      You don’t know English and penalize people who do. Great.

    3. Stefan

      Because thats a serious offense right? How many English words do you use today that do not have their original meaning? Do you use arrive when not traveling by boat?

    4. "D"

      So…Where you work, if you use a word incorrectly, you don’t get a paycheck either?

    5. Steve

      Aw, give Bob a break. He may be anal, but he’s right that a native English speaker wouldn’t choose “momentarily” to convey that intended meaning.

      1. Moike

        >Aw, give Bob a break. He may be anal, but he’s right that a native English speaker wouldn’t choose “momentarily” to convey that intended meaning.

        You clearly haven’t been to Disney world where every ride announces that ‘the doors will be opening momentarily’.

      2. AlphaCentauri

        At least in the US, I’ve never heard anyone use the word “momentarily” to mean “briefly.” It only means “in a moment,” as far as I’ve heard in actual US usage.

        Words change. When Shakespeare “let” someone do something, he meant that he prevented them from doing it, but the word has the opposite meaning now. It doesn’t mean we’re wrong; it doesn’t mean Shakespeare was wrong. It means there are several hundred years and several thousand miles between us.

        You can use a language to identify foreigners by their subtle errors or dialectical differences, or you can use a language to communicate. Bob seems to only want to do the former.

  3. rb

    I can’t read the text on the second screen shot, but the imagery has an anti-USA theme. It seems this goes beyond mere greed.

    1. voksalna

      I’m not seeing anything “anti-USA”, although maybe that is because I am not an American and there is some subtlety to ‘NYC city scene’ that I do not see; maybe you have confused it with the BadB promo from some years back. 😉

      I am surprised nobody else, including you Brian, has pointed out the real atypicality in that advertisement.

    2. voksalna

      Oh the second one. That is forum masthead, not the advertisement.

  4. Richard Steven Hack

    “These are mules that can be counted on not to freak out or disappear with the cash.”

    I think they’ll find that depends on how much cash is involved. 🙂

  5. Jeffrey Korte

    As a security professional fighting these fraudsters on a daily basis, I greatly appreciate information such as this to help me educate employees and customers alike to the dangers facing our infrastructure.

    What has to happen for the public to become more aware?

    It’s a pity that these people don’t use their abilities in a more useful manner.

    1. Dave

      Well, if everyone used their abilities in what you would consider a “more useful manner”, you’d be out of a job.

      Like them or not, these guys are capitalists in the most pure form. In the long run they help us all by forcing us to increase our knowledge and security. The InfoSec people need to learn to react more quickly.

      1. Jeffrey Korte

        So I guess you subscribe to lawlessness and anarchy.

        I wonder if your attitude would be the same if YOU were a victim.
        So I guess you subscribe to lawlessness and anarchy.

        1. Dave

          I have been a victim of identity theft. And of course it wasn’t fun. But I stand by my statements. And your career relies on the more infamous tendencies in human nature.

          Speaking of anarchy, I have a good quote for you:

          “Crime is the necessary condition for the very existence of the State.” – Mikhail Bakunin

  6. Nick Braak

    I’VE SEEN THAT GUY! Hangs out on Coney Island avenue, drives a older BMW 540 with black rims, low-profile tires, cousin owns a wireless store with a sign in the window that they jailbreak iphones.

    But seriously, as a New Yorker I can tell you that the street scene is quite realistic. As is the pose and appearance of the man.

  7. Nabil Stendardo

    Instead of the US cracking down on the petty crime that is filesharing, they should take these issues of organised crime more seriously. I am the first person to speak out against censorship, but the fact that they publicly diffuse such information on the internet without being hindered by their own government is pretty scary.

    1. voksalna

      And yet you are speaking out against censorship — if you have an issue with the crime, then it is the crime you have an issue with; cracking down on speech itself would not stop with just these forums, as history has all to readily borne out. Free speech is at a premium in CIS countries. Actually it is even at a premium at many other so-called free countries now also. While you may believe you have the best interests of the public at heart, so do most people who seek to limit speech instead of doing actual detective work and/or proving a crime.

      You’d be mistaken to think there are not federal agents as well as private agents all over these forums, by the way. By some measure there may be more non-criminals trying to find criminals than real hardened criminals on many of these places. I’m sure Brian has some stories about crossed wires among these agencies — a story I’d actually enjoy reading about some time. 😉

      1. voksalna

        Wopps. I mean speaking in favour of censorship. Also, too. Sorry, English is not my first language. 😉

        1. vokzalna

          Or apparently my own username on here for the past two days. Hehe. (Sorry for SPAM).

  8. easterneuropeastyle

    you guys have no idea about eastern europeans,rUSSIA,ukraine,estonia and so one…the main biz.countries.people in this countries are so rich you could not imaginenation how much some people from eastern europe earn money.go and look yourself,and its cash,tax free

    1. Uzzi

      You, Sir, with all due respect are stupid if you really believe that the richness of apparatchiks in totalitarian regimes like Russia does matter. (No idea why you put Estonia on your list which is baltic, northern europe if you go with UN definitions. If you refer to CIA world factbook Russia is transcontinental…)

      And you are wrong to presume we can’t read Forbes’ Billionaires list:

      Btw: Your assumption their capital is cash and tax free is also wrong… .oO(and as the fates of Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky show: wealth in “eastern europe” is extremely volatile. 8-O)

  9. easterneuropeastyle

    look estonia,russia,ukriane the main cyber countries are east block countries, search google: ghost click,operation trident breach,”sergei tsurikov and so one…just use google and you will see what come up,and have look baltic trio speye,thats the keywords,and i recomend you to go yourself this countries to see how rich they are do this businesia,forbes billionares are public …thats mean,yes they have moeny,but it under control…but eastern europeans they have money too but nonen excaly dont know how much cash tx free

  10. easterneuropeastyle

    anyways,cyber criminals using moneygram,wu,.and other money transfer options to wire money all over the world,th fee is high,and guess what who own the wu and mg organisations??
    the same banks were they stole money,so all is businesia and sales,money is just money,

  11. Noz

    So what’s new? Wall Street has been screwing people over for decades and taking money from people “legally.”

    The biggest crooks are the bankers in NY and elsewhere..look no further…these Russians are crooks no doubt..but they are only in the limelight because it’s all illegal….according to the crooks who steal our money legally.

    1. Neej

      You seem to be having some trouble understanding the definition of legal and illegal.

      1. Richard Steven Hack

        Heh, heh…

        Yeah…”legal” is where you steal and don’t go to jail. “Illegal” is where you steal and go to jail.

        Those with the gold make the rules.

    2. Uzzi

      Real trouble is average Jane & Joe recognized too late banks legalized crime by lobbying legislation and that they could have known the outcome before:

      “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their Fathers conquered…” (Earliest known appearance in print: 1937)

  12. easterneuropeastyle

    yes,monegram fined 100 miljo.fraud? but whos money?? at the end of the day its all tax payers money,and if we look at sentences? then what? …the point is criminals cant pay back money cous ethey dont have legal income,its only cash and cash is undetecteble,and YOU Uzzi,YOU think you so smart and you know everthing? about this? why dont you use your skills to stop this then? banks can just make securtiyy measures stronger and thats it they cand do like canada canada banks have well done with this,…but really specially usa they dont care coz u know what bankers they have better things to do they really dont care,yes im sure they keep some
    level who cares,its just money,and banks are rich so as longes the thieves dont rob tooo much all good,in states is enought tax payers…and yes all this mg and wu owners are bankers wall street and so one,And you Uzzi aksing why i mentioned countries like estonia,ukraine and so on…couse you have no idea how many money mules are from those countries,and highschool..what about high tell me were ended up with your high school education? who need this? belive me if you wanna do businesia with eastern europe people eastern european you do not need any education there you will need any other education like: life education,exprince,psyhology so much more,school education is just paper thats all.please dont mention this here we live in real life not in cartoon,western countries are cartoon,like alice wonderland.not real.ASK why this kind of fraud never happend in eastern europe countries? and if its happend they will be get coiught very fast…couse the thing is how you gona rob your cousen or neighbor? So guys stop living in cartoons,i remeber 90-s was golden age like things was straight..nothig those days now.

    1. Uzzi

      Well, let’s see if I can help: You are special. Your argumentation is typical for a small group of people suffering from brain damage through cannabis. You need to know that your reality is differnet and you see contexts no one else cares about. That’s because it’s not real – just for you. Please try to find a self-help support group for drug abuse and look for a neuropsychiatry centre. Make sure they’ve read ‘Cognition and cannabis: from anecdote to advanced technology’ ¹) in Brain. 2012.


      1. AlphaCentauri

        I’m not sure how much weed you’d have to smoke to write like that. A middle schooler who forgot his Adderal smoking weed and posting from a cell phone might explain it.

        1. Uzzi

          Sorry, Alpha, I’m not kidding; but even you don’t need to know everything.

  13. Noz


    You seem to be the perfect sucker Wall Street is looking for…

    1. Neej

      You don’t know anything about me. What I know about you is that you came up with the statements:

      >taking money from people “legally.”

      >steal our money legally.

      If an action against the law of the land it’s illegal. If it is within the law it is legal. That isn’t altered by placing quotations around the word regardless of your views, opinions or any moral argument you may have.

      And you cannot commit larceny, fraud or any sort of theft legally to use your words.

      1. voksalna

        The problem here is a definitional one, and the governments and corporations have the power to set those definitions and re-draw the lines that separate legal from illegal — or simply let some people go while making other people suffer more for smaller ‘crimes’.

        To some extent, “legal” and “illegal” do belong in quotes; what is good is not always legal; what is bad is not always illegal; what is illegal is not always prosecuted — and this is where ‘nepotistic’ allowances and selective prosecution into play more and more.

        I bring this up because so many readers of this blog and people who work in security (on either side of the fence, as it would be), seem to have a hard time with ‘cybercriminals’ getting away, but seem to kick up far less of a fuss when corporations and CEOs do. Societies now seem to “expect” the ‘fat cats’ to get away with things, because “that is just how it is”.

        Another time “legally” and “illegally” should probably be in quotes is — what is legal in one country and is not legal in another does not have a clear overlap; for cross-border crime, with a victim in one country and perpetrators in other countries, some with laws against certain things, others not, indeed, only quotes can probably be sufficient. Larceny, fraud, etc is generally illegal in most/all countries, but some other crimes? Not so much.

        And clearly what took place at a high level in the US in the past few years could really only be considered criminal, and even “illegal” — but apparently not “illegal” enough to warrant prosecution (and apparently “legal” enough to earn the CEOs their yearly bonuses).

  14. voksalna

    If that was too long to read, then I will make it shorter: Those in power almost always get to be right. Or as famous saying goes “history is written by the victors”; so is the law.

  15. JAmes bonds

    Another baseless article from Brian Crebsky . well done Brian .u just cant get enough of them sneaky Russian bustards .

    Nobody cares what they do . cos there is people in this world who steal millions in 1 day . how many money mules u going to need to steal million ?>>

    u waysting your time again Mr Brian Crebsky . have a good day .

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