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The Robin Hoods of cyberspace?

It appears some online outlaws are giving some of what they steal to charity. But don’t glorify them as the Robin Hoods of cyberspace. Yazan Gable of the Symantec Security Response Center has blogged about fraudsters giving to charity simply to see if the credit card numbers they’ve stolen work.

“In the world of carding, where stolen credit card information is bought and sold, carders need to know if the credit cards they are buying or selling can actually be used,” he wrote. “It is sometimes difficult for them to verify this without raising any alarm bells and risking that their cards will be identified as stolen and disabled. As a consequence, a new trend is appearing.”

To verify that a stolen credit card is legitimate and active, he wrote, cyber thieves have begun donating money to charity. By attempting to pay small amounts of money to various charities, including well known charities such as the Red Cross, he said carders can determine if a stolen credit card is valid depending on the success or failure of the transaction.

“There are likely a number of reasons that this method may be becoming more popular,” he said. “For instance, bank behavior monitors may be less likely to pick up on donations to charities. Legitimate charitable donations are not daily transactions for anyone with a credit card, and so it would be difficult to determine if they are out of the norm. As such, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see this trend grow. I guess the one thing to note here though is that at least some of the stolen money is going to a good cause.”

Of course, that’s of little comfort to the victim, especially since the bad guys are going to use their information for more sinister purposes once their charitable activities make it clear that the information is ripe for exploitation.

This reminds me of some words of wisdom I got a few months ago from one ID theft victim. Rennee Schwartz, a Davenport, Iowa, resident, told me about what she had to go through after her credit card information was stolen two years ago.

Her main message was that credit card holders need to keep constant track of where their personal data is and how it is being used.

“You have to be more cautious, more astute when reviewing credit card statements,” she said. “Stay on top of your information and don’t wait until it’s too late.”

Unfortunately, this now includes checking for charitable contributions you don’t remember making.

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