Maxwell Aliapoulios, Cameron Ballard, Rasika Bhalerao, Tobias Lauinger, and Damon McCoy, New York University
This paper presents the first empirical study of ground-truth data from a major underground shop selling stolen credit and debit cards. To date, there is little quantitative knowledge about how this segment of the underground economy operates, despite causing fraud losses estimated at billions of dollars a year. Our analysis of four years of leaked transactional data allows us to characterize this shop's business model, sellers, customers, and finances. The shop earned close to $104M in gross revenue and listed over 19M unique card numbers for sale. Around 97% of the inventory was stolen magnetic stripe data, commonly used to produce counterfeit cards for in-person payments. Perhaps surprisingly, customers purchased only 40% of this inventory. In contrast, the shop sold 83% of its card-not-present inventory, used for online fraud, which appeared to be in short supply. Demand and pricing were not uniform, as buyers appeared to perceive some banks as having weaker countermeasures against fraud. Even multiple years into the U.S. EMV chip deployment, the supply of stolen magnetic stripe data continued to increase sharply. In particular, we identified a continuing supply of newly issued cards not equipped with EMV chips, especially among prepaid cards. Our findings suggest that improvements to EMV chip deployment in the U.S., combined with a limited supply of stolen card-not-present data, could be avenues to decreasing the revenue and profitability of this shop.
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