The Web Mob a/k/a La Cosa Webstra

Millions of stolen credit card numbers and other personal identification information are available for less than ten dollars according to experts at Baseline magazine and the United States Department of Justice. Unlike Michael Corleone’s crew, these mobsters exist solely in cyberspace. Phishing expeditions are their forte, with estimates of between 75 and 150 million scam emails sent daily.

Virtual Hit Men

Recently one large data collector was hit by mobsters who stole or accessed nearly 150,000 consumer records, credit reports, and Social Security numbers. This gang hides behind digital aliases, screen names, and nicknames. To punish wayward gang members, enforcers will publish the true names and identifying information of formerly anonymous transgressors on websites. Supplying the rat’s true identity to law enforcement virtually assassinates the individual in cyberspace.

The Secret Service recently tracked down one such gang. With 28 arrests, 19 indictments, and 4,000 gang members, the Government has penetrated one of the largest, if not the largest known web mob. Again, unlike secret meetings of the heads of the families, the web mobs met in web based discussion forums where they discussed and attempted to perfect the stealing and the forging of bankcards, and a myriad of other personal identification documents. They cloak their identities and encrypt their communications.

Web Mob Busted

Agents with the Secret Service staged synchronized raids on several gang members. Since word travels fast in cyberspace, they simultaneously knocked on dozens of doors across the country while the gang members were chatting and plotting in a web-based forum. By moving in concert, they captured the capos before they could compromise further investigation by publicizing the bust and/or destroying computer records of their dark deals. Eventually the agents took control of the mob’s website and posted a warning on their homepage to those not yet busted – “Contact your local United States Secret Service field office before we contact you!!!”

In the digital equivalent of a bunch of televisions falling off Tony Soprano’s truck, batches of credit card data were falling off electronic trucks and onto the hard drives of gang members. They tested batches of purloined information to grade and evaluate the data for accuracy and to determine whether or not the card numbers were cancelled or valid. Testing of the data consisted of illicit entry into a retailer’s computer and running a series of nominal charges for each card number to see if the charges were approved or declined. Once tested and graded, the data is sold to the highest bidder on clandestine websites.

Bottom Line

According to the Secret Service, a credit card with a $10,000 limit would sell for between $1 to $10 dollars or more. E-mail addresses and associated personal identification information are cheaper – they go for a few cents each. From high school dropouts to post graduate students of Information Technology, cyber criminals now use the illusion of anonymity and take unrestricted license with confidential information housed on the world’s computer networks.

Authors: W.F. “Casey” Ebsary, Jr., and Albert Lucas, B.A. Mathematics