Sites selling stolen credit card information shut down

Posted by Dr Alistair Phillips in Identity Theft on 4 May 2012 - Ali is a Senior Developer at checkmyfile

After 2 years of investigation, police in Australia, Europe, the UK and US have succeeded in closing over 30 websites selling stolen credit card information. It has been reported that the details of over two-and-a-half million credit cards were recovered, estimated to have prevented fraud of at least £0.5bn.

Thieves and hackers use various methods of getting hold of this information, and of stealing our identities, many of which can be thwarted by taking a little more care, especially online.

Identity thieves often use a technique known as “social engineering” – fooling the user into doing what the thieves want. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as emailing the user with an interesting-looking attachment (which, once opened, installs malware onto the victim’s computer), or sending a link in an email which takes the user to a “booby-trapped” website (which, when visited, installs malware onto the victim’s computer). This malware may then sit on the victim’s computer, searching for information on the user’s identity, passwords and anything else which could prove useful to the identity thief. It could even scan all the key-strokes on the user’s computer – this is then uploaded for later analysis to the thief’s computer.

Another common trick is to send an email which looks, at first glance, as if it comes from the recipient’s bank. People are becoming savvier to the fact that banks never ask for online banking information via email, and so many of these emails contain a link which appears to access the recipient’s online banking. This link often leads to a very credible and accurate representation of the actual bank’s website, although all it does is record the user names and passwords of anyone fooled into trying to “log in”.

Although these emails look quite genuine, there are sometimes tell-tale signs that not all is at it seems. They are often addressed “Dear Sir” regardless of the recipient – they don’t know your name, or even if you’re male or female. The English is often quite bad grammatically (but not always!). They usually claim that “there’s a problem with your account” or that your “account security has been upgraded” and that you need to click on the link in the email and change your login details (exactly what the thieves want from you).

The best thing to do is to delete such emails immediately. Some banks have an email address you can forward the email to. If you think that the email may have been genuine, contact your bank to be sure or navigate to your bank’s website directly to see if there are any instructions on there – don’t click on any links in the email itself. Before logging in, make sure that the web address at the top of the browser starts “https://” (the “s” is the important part here) - the browser sometimes displays a padlock symbol or changes the colour of the address bar as well. Ensure that the antivirus program on your computer is always up to date, but don’t rely on it – think before you click!

Regardless of what actions you take to protect yourself, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your credit file. That will tell you instantly if someone has opened an account in your name.

Dr Alistair Phillips is one of our longest serving Senior Programmers at checkmyfile. You can contact him at alistair.phillips@checkmyfile.com

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