Posts Tagged: $9.84


22
Sep 14

Who’s Behind the Bogus $49.95 Charges?

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear from a reader wondering about the origins of a bogus credit card charge for $49.95 or some similar amount for a product they never ordered. As this post will explain, such charges appear to be the result of crooks trying to game various online affiliate programs by using stolen credit cards.

Bogus $49.95 charges for herbal weight loss products like these are showing up on countless consumer credit statements.

Bogus $49.95 charges for herbal weight loss products like these are showing up on countless consumer credit statements.

Most of these charges are associated with companies marketing products of dubious value and quality, typically by knitting a complex web of front companies, customer support centers and card processing networks. Whether we’re talking about a $49.95 payment for a bottle of overpriced vitamins, $12.96 for some no-name software title, or $9.84 for a dodgy Internet marketing program, the unauthorized charge usually is for a good or service that is intended to be marketed by an online affiliate program.

Affiliate programs are marketing machines built to sell a huge variety of products or services that are often of questionable quality and unknown provenance. Very often, affiliate programs are promoted using spam, and the stuff pimped by them includes generic prescription drugs, vitamins and “nutriceuticals,” and knockoff designer purses, watches, handbags, shoes and sports jerseys.

At the core of the affiliate program is a partnership of convenience: The affiliate managers handle the boring backoffice stuff, including the customer service, product procurement (suppliers) and order fulfillment (shipping). The sole job of the “affiliates” — the commission-based freelance marketers who sign up to promote whatever is being sold by the affiliate program — is to drive traffic and sales to the program.

THE NEW FACE OF SPAM

It is no surprise, then, that online affiliate programs like these often are overrun with scammers, spammers and others easily snagged by the lure of get-rich-quick schemes. In June, I began hearing from dozens of readers about unauthorized charges on their credit card statements for $49.95. The charges all showed up alongside various toll-free 888- numbers or names of customer support Web sites, such as supportacr[dot]com and acrsupport[dot]com. Readers who called these numbers or took advantage of the chat interfaces at these support sites were all told they’d ordered some kind of fat-burning pill or vitamin from some random site, such as greenteahealthdiet[dot]com or naturalfatburngarcinia[dot]com.

Those sites were among tens of thousands that are being promoted via spam, according to Gary Warner, chief technologist at Malcovery, an email security firm. The Web site names themselves are not included in the spam; rather, the spammers include a clickable URL for a hacked Web site that, when visited, redirects the user to the pill shop’s page. This redirection is done to avoid having the pill shop pages indexed by anti-spam filters and other types of blacklists used by security firms, Warner said. Continue reading →


6
Jan 14

Deconstructing the $9.84 Credit Card Hustle

Over the holidays, I heard from a number of readers who were seeing strange, unauthorized charges showing up on their credit and debit cards for $9.84. Many wondered whether this was the result of the Target breach; I suppose I asked for this, having repeatedly advised readers to keep a close eye on their bank statements for bogus transactions. It’s still not clear how consumers’ card numbers are being stolen here, but the fraud appears to stem from an elaborate network of affiliate schemes that stretch from Cyprus to India and the United Kingdom.

homecsOne reader said the $9.84 charge on her card  came with a notation stating the site responsible was eetsac.com. I soon discovered that there are dozens of sites complaining about similar charges from similarly-constructed domains; for example, this 30-page thread at Amazon’s customer help forums includes gripes from hundreds of people taken by this scam.

I did a bit of digging into that eetsac.com domain, ordering a historic WHOIS report from domaintools.com. The report shows that the domain eetsac.com was originally registered using the email address walter.kosevo@ymail.com. Domaintools also reports that this email address was used to register more than 230 other sites; a full list is available here (CSV).

A closer look at some of those domains reveals a few interesting facts. Callscs.in, for example, is a Web site for a call center and a domain that has been associated with these $9.84 fraudulent charges. Callscs.in lists as its local phone number 43114300. That number traces back to a call center in India, Call Connect India, Inc., which registers its physical address as Plot No 82, Sector 12 A, Dwarka. New Delhi – 110075.

iwepThe next site like that one on the list — cewcs.com — references the domain insiderwebeducationpro.com, another domain on the list of sites registered to that ymail.com email address. The homepage of insiderwebeducationpro.com lists the following contact information:

Copyright © 2014. All Rights Reserved – Lasorea Ltd

Lasorea Ltd.
Site and billing supported by:cewcs.com cs@cewcs.com
Premier Business Centre 47-49 Park Royal Road
London UK NW107LQ
8555311090

A search at companieshouse.gov.uk, a government site which maintains records about companies based in the United Kingdom, turned up incorporation records (PDF) showing that Lasorea Ltd. was founded in January 2013 by Emil Darbinian, a 28-year-old self-described accountant from Nicosia, Cyprus. Other records searches on Mr. Darbinian indicate he owns at least two other companies at the same address, including Testohealth Labs. Ltd — which appears to be a software company — and a firm called Levantos Venture Ltd. Mr. Darbinian did not return messages seeking comment.

Another domain on the list — etosac.com — is listed as the support and billing site for webtutorialpro.com, a site which bills itself as an “affiliate learning system.” In fact, of the 235 domains registered to walter.kosevo@ymail.com, all seem to be either affiliate programs of one kind (diet pills, work-at-home) or support/call center sites.

Dozens of sites like this one are the source of the $9.84 charges.

Dozens of sites like this one are the apparent source of the $9.84 charges.

Webtutorialpro.com lists on its homepage a company named Lukria, Ltd., and an address at the same London business park as Mr. Darbinian’s companies. If we step through the signup process to become an affiliate at Webtutorialpro.com, we can see that everything — from the “online store in a box” to “pay per click extreme” and the tutorial on “how to get FREE web traffic — all retail for….wait for it….$9.84!

Lukria, according to incorporation documents (PDF) purchased from companieshouse.co.uk, was created on the same day as Lasorea Ltd., and lists as its director a Sergey Babayan, also from Cyprus. According to the Facebook pages of both Mr. Darbinian and Mr. Babayan, the two men are friends. Mr. Babayan has not responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Babayan’s Facebook profile says he works at a company called Prospectacy Limited, which LinkedIn says is an accounting firm in Nicosia, Cyprus. According to Prospectacy’s Web site, this company specializes in “corporate services,” including “company formation,” “banking,” and “virtual office” services. The company seems to be in the business of establishing offshore firms; according to a reverse WHOIS record lookup from domaintools.com, the email address used to register Prospectacy’s domain also was used to register at least ten other domains, including registerincyprus.com, registerinuk.com, setupincyprus.com and setupineu.com.

A number of these affiliate sites include on their home page links to credorax.com, a Southborough, Mass. based acquiring bank Malta-based acquiring bank that is in the business of processing credit and debit card payments for merchants. It’s not clear whether either cewcs.com or insiderwebeducationpro.com use Credorax Inc. for payment processing, but it seems to suggest that by association. I reached out to Credorax to learn whether this site (and perhaps others that are the subject of this story) are customers, and will update this story if I hear back from them.

Update, 12:43 p.m. ET: I heard from Michael Burtscher, vice president of acquiring risk and fraud management at Credorax. Burtscher clarified that his company has offices in the U.S. but is based in Malta. Burtscher confirmed that Credorax had until recently helped to process cards for the network of sites named in this story, but that the company has severed that relationship. He declined to say when exactly the relationship ended, or indeed whether my information about the client’s identities was accurate. Burtscher would only say that Credorax terminated its relationship with the client in response to consumer complaints about the fraudulent charges. “This was one of those cases where when we onboarded them it looked like a legitimate account, but when we saw there were issues we decided to take action.”

Continue reading →