December 22, 2014

In September 2014, I wrote about receiving a package of $500 in counterfeit U.S. currency from an unknown sender, after mentioning in a blog post about a rash of funny money resellers flooding underground cybercrime markets. Last week, U.S. authorities announced the arrest of a Texas man charged with leading the international counterfeit currency operation from a location in the Republic of Uganda.

Counterfeit $100s and $50s from "Willy Clock," allegedly the online alias of a Texas man living in Uganda.

Counterfeit $100s and $50s from “Willy Clock,” allegedly the online alias of a Texas man living in Uganda.

U.S. prosecutors say 27-year-old Ryan Andrew Gustafson – a.k.a. “Jack Farrel” and “Willy Clock” — is a U.S. citizen currently residing in Kampala, Uganda. Gustafson was arrested on Dec. 16 by Ugandan authorities and charged with conspiracy, counterfeiting, and unlawful possession of ammunition.

The defendant and his alleged accomplices are suspected of passing approximately $270,000 in fake U.S. currency in Uganda. In total, Ugandan authorities say they seized some $1.8 million in funny money from Gustafson’s operation.

The U.S. Secret Service, which investigates currency counterfeiting, said the investigation began in December 2013 when agents were alerted to the passing of counterfeit notes at retail stores and businesses in the Pittsburgh area. A press release from the Justice Department outlines the rest of the investigation:

“Agents determined that an individual identified as J.G. had passed these notes and was renting a postal box at The UPS Store on Pittsburgh’s South Side.  On Feb 19, 2014, law enforcement learned that J.G. received three packages addressed from Beyond Computers, located in Kampala, Uganda.  Agents executing a search warrant on the packages found $7,000 in counterfeit $100, $50 and $20 FRNs located in two hidden compartments within the packaging envelopes.  A fingerprint on a document inside one of the packages was identified as belonging to Ryan Andrew Gustafson.”

Jack Farrel's Facebook page. The U.S. Secret Service alleges that Farrel is Gustafson, a.k.a. counterfeiter "Willy Clock."

Jack Farrel’s Facebook page. The U.S. Secret Service alleges that Farrel is Gustafson, a.k.a. counterfeiter “Willy Clock.”

“The Secret Service subsequently worked with Ugandan authorities to identify the source of the counterfeit [cash].  Their efforts led to A.B., who admitted to sending the packages, explaining that an American named “Jack Farrel,” and another person, provided him the counterfeit notes to ship.  Based on information provided by A.B., the Secret Service used facial recognition to identify Jack Farrel as Ryan Andrew Gustafson.”

The government says Gustafson sold the bills through the Tor Carding Forum, a cybercrime shop that is unreachable from the regular Internet. Rather, visiting the Tor Carding Forum requires the visitor to route his communications through Tor, a free software-based service that helps users maintain anonymity by obfuscating their true location online.

Willy Clock’s phony currency wasn’t only available via Tor. By the middle of 2014, ads for his funny money were showing up on regular, Internet-based cybercrime forums. One reseller of Willy Clock’s notes even set up his own sales thread on Reddit.

Once again, it appears that sloppy operational security contributed to an arrest of an alleged bad guy. According to the government’s complaint (PDF), the email address that Gustafson provided on his U.S. passport application was the same one he allegedly used to maintain a Facebook account under the Jack Farrel alias. Investigators found that Gustafson also used the same Internet address to access his real Facebook page and the Farrel account. Another Facebook page tied to the Jack Farrel identity says the accused was in Uganda as a project associate at the U.N. refugee shelter program.

41 thoughts on “Alleged Counterfeiter “Willy Clock” Arrested

  1. Panix

    I’d like to know if he had some super duper leet hax0r setup or was just using stuff you buy on Amazon to make the fakes.

    Any ideas on how the funny money was created?

    1. Amigo

      Brian’s first link in the article shows how he previously analyzed a sample of these bills, and notwithstanding the boasts in the cybercrime underground advertisements, they weren’t exactly Superdollars. More like Super hype dollars.

    1. FreakFrak

      Not every country allows its citizens to own certain weapons or ammo… Some none at all… As a foreigner, they might even have less rights.

      1. JCitizen

        Yes, if you’ll just step over here and let these agents hit you in the head with sledge hammers. What? No rights? Too bad!

    2. TG

      Washington, DC, has “unlawful possession of ammunition” on its books, too – one-year max prison time and/or $1,000 max fine.

      You can be charged if you don’t hold a valid registration certificate of the same gauge and caliber as the ammo you possess unless you’re a licensed dealer or are federal or local law enforcement and acting within the scope of your duties. DC Criminal Code 7-2506.01.

      African countries are more serious about it, it seems. Google turned up a case in Kenya in which the defendant was sentenced to life on that charge. In South Africa, the fatally anxious Pistorius faced 15 years on that charge alone before the judge astounded the world with the depth of her mercy.

      Found plenty of charges being laid in Uganda – seems to be a charge well suited for poaching cases – but didn’t happen to find accompanying sentencing information.

      1. JCitizen

        I think most of those DC laws have been thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court, even though they may be carried in the DC law books, to this day.

      2. codifier

        In New Jersey you cannot have hollow point bullets in your possession except at your home or other land owned with exceptions for transportation to/from the range. So even with a permit (good luck getting one unless you’re politically connected) you cannot have hollow point bullets on your person. In short there’s places even in the States that you can get popped with this charge.

    1. TG

      Great, thanks.

      “Any person who—

      purchases, acquires or has in his or her possession any firearm or ammunition without holding a valid firearm certificate, or otherwise than as authorised by such a certificate, or, in the case of ammunition, in quantities in excess of those so authorised; or

      fails to comply with any condition, subject to which a firearm certificate is held by him or her, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand shillings or to both.

  2. poyy

    pointless man.,pointless thing,. there is no point to make money if the goverment gona take that from you anyways.
    pointless,looser not need to make fake moeny anyways.couse too long sentences, its so ointlesss

  3. Dr. Zackary Smith

    It sucks to be “Willy Clock” as I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes being caught with all that fake currency .

    What a foolish ninny

  4. mbi

    Its nice to see crooks doing good deeds for the UN. It must be Christmas season.

  5. BVR

    I wonder if the fakes had the vertical strip that shows the denomination of the bill. I’ve always thought of that as one of the hardest aspects to reproduce.

      1. BVR

        I did, but I must have missed it (great write up just the same.)
        Unless it’s in the videos, not watched those yet.

      2. Mazoola

        About 18 months ago, as I was about to hand over four $20 bills to a Western Union agent, I noticed the color-shifting ’20’ on two of them wasn’t shifting. I quickly replaced them with a pair of authentic Jacksons, and once I returned home, I spent some time trying to figure out how best to guard against getting slipped fakes in the future.

        While casual handling of them didn’t raise any alarms, these were most likely Peruvian product, so identifying them wasn’t all that difficult, once I was looking for indications they were fake. The paper was of poorer quality, and it fluoresced blue-white under UV. Microprint was, um, legibly illegible — that is, one could easily see the microprint wasn’t — and there was no embedded polyester strip.


        …as I was examining every $10, $20, and $100 that walked through the door, I found a $20 that was flawless in every way but one: It had a polyester strip located where a $20 bill’s strip should be, and the strip had ‘USA 20’ imprinted along its length — but under UV it glowed red. (Well, pink, actually, at least to my eyes; whatever the color, it matched ones in a couple of $100 bills I checked.)

        Is this the Bureau of Engraving equivalent to a cracked die or double-strike? Should I have held onto it for later sale to a very arcane collector? I’m not sure how far back in the manufacturing process the slip-up had to have occurred. I assume the strips arrive from the vendor already color-coded and printed. Is this a common slip-up, or did I let a [very subtle] $20 inverted jenny go?

  6. Katrina L.

    I always find it funny that these crooks are able to make so much money counterfeiting US currency…what businesses get duped by these schemes? As far as know, literally all retail employees are trained to quickly ID this “funny money”.

    1. IA Eng

      The “stereo typical” retail minimum wave hired worker may get some training on this, but like Brian said, the strip appears to be there. The counterfeit pens are useless since they paper they use is acid free.

      I realize it takes all kinds of people to make this world go around. I also realize that working is an effort to better oneself, but some – not all – simply don’t follow the rules when it comes to looking for bad money.

      So if some one is making bad money and is able to pawn it off on others for valuables and then, sell those items of value for much more than what it costs for the ink and paper, they win – until they are caught. Even the true crooks don’t like funny money because it too takes away from their bottom line, and if they have some of it unknowingly, it could bring unwanted attention to themselves.

      So in a nutshell, retail workers see a long line of people in front of them. The may do a quick check of the bills, but honestly? I would have to guess that more than 50% of what is passed is not caught if they came from this Mr. Mouse character. More sophisticated trained eyes even had a difficult time.

    2. setven jackson

      Employees are supposed to be trained to always check for these things. But many don’t.

      No one can realistically expect the typical $9 an hour worker to check every single bill every single customer hands them every single day.

      When it comes to smaller bills like $20’s , almost no one really checks though. Quite easy to shop around at various stores and find a few who aren’t checking money, then come back with your fake money at those stores.

    3. cfarmer

      I was at Target this week where they took my $20 and ran it thru a “bill reader” device to check authenticity. No need to train staff to visually inspect the bills when you have this, I suppose.

  7. Ian Campbell

    Interesting tie-in: bills were sold on Tor Carding Forum. Admin just announced that TCF is shutting down. Interesting timing.

      1. Ian Campbell

        Clock gets busted from what looks like a multi-prong investigation, with his major outlet being through TCF. TCF, almost simultaneously, announces it’s closing. It reminds me of previous carder markets shutting down at the conclusion of major investigations, though Clock doesn’t seem major enough for that. And if TCF is compromised then Evo almost certainly is. Perhaps an investigation consolidation, perhaps me just tinfoiling.

        In any case the synchronous timing is interesting to me.

        1. bob

          Willy clock was banned from TCF for some reason and began his own forum. Read the criminal complaint it talks about how he ran his own forum

          Also, TCF shutdown because the operators now run evolution which generates a lot more money.

  8. XSA

    “Red Square is dominated by a vast swimming pool, St. Basil’s Cathedral houses restaurants, and there’s a disco inside a copy of Moscow’s neo-classical Senate, where president Vladimir Putin has his offices. And in the gift shop, a tracksuit with a patterned print of U.S. $100 bills runs to $80 — about 4,900 rubles today, up from 3,750 rubles a month ago — a figure that may be even greater when the high season begins next spring.”

  9. Anonymous

    It is said, or alleged, that Willy’s notes are 1 step below “super-note” quality. Meaning they will pass pen, and human eye close inspection. These bills are extremely common, and I cannot remember the exact statistic, but everyone in America will have unknowingly passed fake notes in their lifetime.

    1. chasm22

      “It is said, or alleged, that Willy’s notes are 1 step below “super-note” quality. Meaning they will pass pen, and human eye close inspection. These bills are extremely common, and I cannot remember the exact statistic, but everyone in America will have unknowingly passed fake notes in their lifetime.”

      1. Catch your breath and throw a couple of cites out there for some of the ‘facts’ you’re throwing around. In particular, the one about these bills are extremely common and everyone in America will pass a counterfeit bill in their lifetime. In an earlier blog about this, KOS cited a Federal Reserfve study on counterfeiting that was fairly current. It put a figure on the amount of so-called supernotes in circulation at 3 in 100,000.
      I don’t know about your neighborhood, but that statistic suggests a person would have to possess something on the order of 33,000,000 bucks worth of $100 bills to have a statistical shot at passing a supernote. In my economic strata, that would be reachable only via a lottery ticket.

      Counterfeiters and their customers face difficult decisions and bad odds . They both have to balance the enhanced inspection that a $100 bill brings versus the need to move larger quantities of smaller denomination to achieve the same economic benefit.

      Anyone purchasing counterfeit money without handling it is either desperate or stupid or both. Successfully passing bogus money a few times will make you stupid real quick, if you were there already.

      I can tell you that I’ve hand counted tons of cash and I don’t care who you are, you develop a feel for cash. I know I did. In my life I’ve caught 3 counterfeits. I felt each one before I even gave it a close visual. Turns out all three were pretty bad.

      One other tidbit that I’ve been told but have never actually researched. If you get caught passing a bogus $100, you wll be questioned. The questions are easy to ask and not so easy to answer. All law enforcement will want to know is where you got the $100 bill from. A $20 or a $50 you can easily say you got as change. You don’t get a hundred back as change in any transaction I’m aware of.. Sure, banks give them out. They don’t give out bogus ones.

      Finally, IIRC, this guy lasted for what a year? I would say that less than average for such a smart guy. Probably he’d be better classified as a smart ass guy. What did he think was going to happen when he started advertising on Reddit. He was basically b*tch slapping the Secret Service when he did that. You think maybe he was on their to-do list? I mean, advertising? Sending bogus bills to security bloggers? You see the trend? Dumb and dumber. I go back to my about anyone buying bills from him. Sure, he thought they were great. But he obviously has a thinking impediment. Now he gets to find out exactly why successful counterfeiters are amongst the rarest of humans. I’ll give you a hint. Because there are damn few people in the world who want to practice a trade where one mistake gets you 20 years. Nothing short of first degree murder will get you a first time sentence like that.

      Oh well, one thing he will have are all the memories of living large in Uganda.

  10. Anonymous

    Not surprised they caught this guy.

    Have a good Christmas, Brian!

  11. Kavasir

    I can confirm that SPE did not block IRC access within their network– perhaps this was the ex-filtration point for the data?

  12. test

    test, feel free to delete .

    I have not been able to successfully reply to any existing message, thought I would try adding a new thread

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