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Parcel mules scam exposed

Cybercrook, keen phisherman seeks reliable partners on dating sites

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Fraudsters are increasingly using middlemen to handle goods fraudulently purchased online. These so-called parcel mules are being recruited through dating sites by unscrupulous conmen posing as potential partners for the lonely and gullible or via bogus job adverts.

A lower rent version of money mules - the intermediaries in phishing scams who receive money taken from compromise bank accounts and transfer it to fraudsters abroad - parcel mules handle fraudulently purchased goods instead of cash transfers.

By using middlemen, the orchestrators of scams find it easier to get goods delivered to overseas location while minimising the possibility that they might be arrested for their misdeeds.

Parcel mules are typically recruited through fake 'job' ads. Spoof websites and even dating sites also play a role in recruiting the accomplices to cybercrime, a program screened in the UK on Monday explains. An investigation by ITV1’s Tonight programme discovered that an unwitting female accomplice - recruited through a dating site - was handling the deliveries of high value goods for a fraudster posing as a volunteer for a children's orphanage in Africa.

The woman received deliveries for goods such as mobile phones, DVD players, and laptops that were picked up every week by van. ITV1’s investigation discovered 12 other women (and they were all women) were doing the same "favour" for other "boyfriends", reckoned to be based in either Nigeria or Ghana. The purchases were made using stolen credit card details purchased in fraud forums and transported overseas through various shipping intermediaries before being picked up by the as-yet unidentified fraudster or gang of conmen orchestrating the scheme.

Andrew Goodwill, a fraud expert with credit card screening service the 3rd Man, was interviewed during the program and is familiar with the details of ITV1’s investigation. Goodwill told El Reg that the parcel mule featured in the program was handling 30 packages a week. The other 12 women doing the same scam may unwittingly be working for the same conmen and are all "women of a certain age from respectable backgrounds", according to Goodwill. No male parcel mules were identified.

Goodwill added that it's possible hundreds or even thousands of other credulous individuals might be involved in the scam. By using shared data schemes, attempts at credit card fraud can be more readily exposed, Goodwill argued, plugging a type of service offered through the third man. Shared databases collate data associated with purchases identified as potentially fraudulent including email addresses, delivery addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses, and compromised card numbers. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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