Posts Tagged: gift card fraud


14
May 18

Detecting Cloned Cards at the ATM, Register

Much of the fraud involving counterfeit credit, ATM debit and retail gift cards relies on the ability of thieves to use cheap, widely available hardware to encode stolen data onto any card’s magnetic stripe. But new research suggests retailers and ATM operators could reliably detect counterfeit cards using a simple technology that flags cards which appear to have been altered by such tools.

A gift card purchased at retail with an unmasked PIN hidden behind a paper sleeve. Such PINs can be easily copied by an adversary, who waits until the card is purchased to steal the card’s funds. Image: University of Florida.

Researchers at the University of Florida found that account data encoded on legitimate cards is invariably written using quality-controlled, automated facilities that tend to imprint the information in uniform, consistent patterns.

Cloned cards, however, usually are created by hand with inexpensive encoding machines, and as a result feature far more variance or “jitter” in the placement of digital bits on the card’s stripe.

Gift cards can be extremely profitable and brand-building for retailers, but gift card fraud creates a very negative shopping experience for consumers and a costly conundrum for retailers. The FBI estimates that while gift card fraud makes up a small percentage of overall gift card sales and use, approximately $130 billion worth of gift cards are sold each year.

One of the most common forms of gift card fraud involves thieves tampering with cards inside the retailer’s store — before the cards are purchased by legitimate customers. Using a handheld card reader, crooks will swipe the stripe to record the card’s serial number and other data needed to duplicate the card.

If there is a PIN on the gift card packaging, the thieves record that as well. In many cases, the PIN is obscured by a scratch-off decal, but gift card thieves can easily scratch those off and then replace the material with identical or similar decals that are sold very cheaply by the roll online.

“They can buy big rolls of that online for almost nothing,” said Patrick Traynor, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Florida. “Retailers we’ve worked with have told us they’ve gone to their gift card racks and found tons of this scratch-off stuff on the ground near the racks.”

At this point the cards are still worthless because they haven’t yet been activated. But armed with the card’s serial number and PIN, thieves can simply monitor the gift card account at the retailer’s online portal and wait until the cards are paid for and activated at the checkout register by an unwitting shopper.

Once a card is activated, thieves can encode that card’s data onto any card with a magnetic stripe and use that counterfeit to purchase merchandise at the retailer. The stolen goods typically are then sold online or on the street. Meanwhile, the person who bought the card (or the person who received it as a gift) finds the card is drained of funds when they eventually get around to using it at a retail store.

The top two gift cards show signs that someone previously peeled back the protective sticker covering the redemption code. Image: Flint Gatrell.

Traynor and a team of five other University of Florida researchers partnered with retail giant WalMart to test their technology, which Traynor said can be easily and quite cheaply incorporated into point-of-sale systems at retail store cash registers. They said the WalMart trial demonstrated that researchers’ technology distinguished legitimate gift cards from clones with up to 99.3 percent accuracy.

While impressive, that rate still means the technology could still generate a “false positive” — erroneously flagging a legitimate customer as using a fraudulently obtained gift card in a non-trivial number of cases. But Traynor said the retailers they spoke with in testing their equipment all indicated they would welcome any additional tools to curb the incidence of gift card fraud.

“We’ve talked with quite a few retail loss prevention folks,” he said. “Most said even if they can simply flag the transaction and make a note of the person [presenting the cloned card] that this would be a win for them. Often, putting someone on notice that loss prevention is watching is enough to make them stop — at least at that store. From our discussions with a few big-box retailers, this kind of fraud is probably their newest big concern, although they don’t talk much about it publicly. If the attacker does any better than simply cloning the card to a blank white card, they’re pretty much powerless to stop the attack, and that’s a pretty consistent story behind closed doors.” Continue reading →


19
Dec 17

Buyers Beware of Tampered Gift Cards

Prepaid gift cards make popular presents and no-brainer stocking stuffers, but before you purchase one be on the lookout for signs that someone may have tampered with it. A perennial scam that picks up around the holidays involves thieves who pull back and then replace the decals that obscure the card’s redemption code, allowing them to redeem or transfer the card’s balance online after the card is purchased by an unwitting customer.

Last week KrebsOnSecurity heard from Colorado reader Flint Gatrell, who reached out after finding that a bunch of Sam’s Club gift cards he pulled off the display rack at Wal-Mart showed signs of compromise. The redemption code was obscured by a watermarked sticker that is supposed to make it obvious if it has been tampered with, and many of the cards he looked at clearly had stickers that had been peeled back and then replaced.

“I just identified five fraudulent gift cards on display at my local Wal-Mart,” Gatrell said. “They each had their stickers covering their codes peeled back and replaced. I can only guess that the thieves call the service number to monitor the balances, and try to consume them before the victims can.  I’m just glad I thought to check!”

In the picture below, Gatrell is holding up three of the Sam’s Club cards. The top two showed signs of tampering, but the one on the bottom appeared to be intact.

The top two gift cards show signs that someone previously peeled back the protective sticker covering the redemption code. Image: Flint Gatrell.

Continue reading →


10
Dec 15

The Role of Phony Returns in Gift Card Fraud

On any given day, there are thousands of gift cards from top retailers for sale online that can be had for a fraction of their face value. Some of these are exactly what they appear to be: legitimate gift cards sold through third-party sites that specialize in reselling used or unwanted cards. But many of the more steeply discounted gift cards for sale online are in fact the product of merchandise return fraud, meaning consumers who purchase them unwittingly help thieves rob the stores that issued the cards.

giftcardsThis type of scam mainly impacts brick-and-mortar retailers that issue gift cards when consumers return merchandise at a store without presenting a receipt. Last week I heard from KrebsOnSecurity reader Lisa who recently went online to purchase a bunch of steeply discounted gift cards issued by pet supply chain Petco.

Lisa owns two Rottweilers that both eat a good chunk of their weight each month in dog food, so Lisa said she felt like she’d really hit on a bargain when she found a $165 Petco gift card for sale at a popular online gift card retailer for $120 (a nearly 30 percent discount on the value).

“When I went to Petco to get my monthly supply of dog food and snacks for my Rotties, I used my merchandise card and the manager shared with me that folks are stealing merchandise from one Petco store and returning the items to another without a receipt and then selling the cards to places like raise.com and cardpool.com at a discounted price,” Lisa recounted.

Petco’s official policy is that for returns more than 60 days after the purchase — or if the receipt is unavailable — the value of the goods returned will be refunded to a merchandise card. Lisa said she bought the Petco card from raise.com, but she said the company never disclosed that the card was a merchandise return card — a fact that was printed on the front of the card she received.

“I feel really bad now because my purchase of these cards may have contributed to unlawful activities,” Lisa said. “Even though I saved $40+, Petco actually lost money as a result.”

Neither Raise nor Petco responded to requests for comment. But a look at the available Petco cards for sale via one gift card tracking site — giftcardgranny.com — shows Petco cards routinely sell for at least 25 percent off their value.

In any case, this fraud scheme is hardly specific to Petco. Cards from Petsmart, a competitor that also offers merchandise return cards, generally sell at 20 percent off their value. Clothier H&M’s cards average about 30 percent off.

Contrast these discounts with those for gift cards from restaurants, fuel stations and other businesses that generally don’t have to deal with customer returns and you’ll notice two interesting patterns: For starters, the face value of the cards from merchants that don’t take customer returns are far more likely to be even amounts, such as $50, $25 and $40. The percentage off the face value also tends to be much lower — between 3 and 15 percent. For example, see the discount percentage and value of cards from Starbucks and Chevron.

“Twenty-five percent off is really high, and there aren’t many that offer that high of a discount,” said Damon McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science at New York University and an expert on fraud involving stored value cards. “Normally, it is around 5 percent to 15 percent.” Continue reading →