Amid a growing wave of cryptocurrency seizures and government cybercrime crackdowns, Russian authorities have taken down massive swaths of the illicit credit card market as the nation looks to bolster legal cryptocurrency adoption, shutting down four sites this week that together have pulled in hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of stolen credit cards, according to cybersecurity firm Elliptic.
Four illicit websites seized by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs on Monday made more than $263 million in cryptocurrency proceeds from the sale of stolen credit cards, representing roughly one-fifth of the global market for illicit cards, according to an Elliptic analysis released Wednesday.
Among sites taken down, Ferum Shop was the world’s largest marketplace for stolen credit cards, making an estimated $256 million in bitcoin since its launch in 2013, according to Elliptic, while marketplace Trump’s Dumps, which infamously used former President Donald Trump’s likeness to help sell raw magnetic strip data from stolen cards, raked in about $4.1 million since 2017.
Notices posted on both websites Wednesday morning warned users that the platforms had been seized by police and were pending criminal investigations, while in another seized marketplace, dubbed SkyFraud, Russian authorities left an emoji-laden message buried in the sites’ source code teasing, “Which of you is next?”
Investigators on Monday asked a Mascow court to arrest six members of an unnamed hacking group for allegedly circulating illegal “means of payment,” according to state-owned Russian news agency TASS, but it’s still unclear whether the suspects are directly linked to the dark web credit card sites.
The seizures come less than a month after Russian authorities seized the then-largest illicit credit card dealer, UniCC, which facilitated some $358 million in transactions over nine years.
According to Elliptic, closures and seizures of carding sites this year have already accounted for almost 50% of sales in the dark web market for stolen credit cards—part of a broader slowdown in illicit dark web activity as tightening cryptocurrency regulation makes it more difficult to launder funds.
Earlier this week, Russia’s government said it had reached an agreement with its central bank to draft legislation recognizing cryptocurrency as a form of currency by February 18, largely as an effort to help curb cybercrime. According to a draft document, the move would force users to undergo identity checks conducted by the country’s banking system or licensed intermediaries and make it a criminal offense to transact cryptocurrencies without the checks. “The establishment of rules for the circulation of cryptocurrencies and control measures will minimize the threat to the stability of the financial system and reduce the use of cryptocurrencies for illegal purposes,” legislators said, lamenting that a complete ban on cryptocurrencies would be “impossible.”
$214 billion. That’s roughly the value of Russia’s crypto market, representing about 12% of the total value of the world’s cryptocurrencies, according to United Kingdom broker GlobalBlock.
What To Watch For
Amid simmering tensions with Russia over state-sanctioned cybercrime, President Joe Biden is reportedly slated to release an executive order that will task federal agencies with regulating cryptocurrencies as a matter of national security as soon as this month.
Russia’s not alone in cracking down on cybercrime. U.S. authorities arrested a New York City couple on Tuesday for allegedly conspiring to launder $4.5 billion worth of bitcoin stolen during a hack of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex in 2016, $3.6 billion of which federal authorities have recovered in what the Department of Justice is calling the largest financial seizure ever. According to court filings, 34-year-old Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, conspired to launder the proceeds of 119,754 bitcoins by employing “numerous sophisticated laundering techniques”—including using fake identities to set up online accounts and running computer programs to automate transactions.
Editor’s Note: Heather Morgan was a ForbesWomen contributor from July 2017 until Forbes ended the relationship in September 2021, and was never an employee.
Feds Seize $3.6 Billion In Stolen Bitcoin, Arrest Couple Five Years After Massive Crypto Exchange Hack (Forbes)
Internet’s Biggest Marketplace For Stolen Credit Cards Will Shut Down (Forbes)