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Peering into the world of credit hackers

Scott Jagow, Marketplace Morning Report Host

TEXT OF STORY

Stacey Vanek-Smith: There's something the new credit card regulations won't do: Protect you against hackers. Of course, there's now one less to worry about, and he's a big one: Albert Gonzalez.

This week, Gonzalez was arrested for one of the biggest identity thefts ever. He's accused of hacking into the computers of retail and financial companies and stealing information on 170 million credit and debit cards. Federal agents busted him in Miami Beach.

Marketplace's blogger Scott Jagow posted about the story this week and took a brief glimpse into the wild world of hacking.


Scott Jagow: I found out how Gonzalez and people like him might operate. And it's pretty stunning how complex this crime really is. It's a worldwide market -- just like oil, just like corn. And in fact, Gonzalez is known as a "harvester." He's very skilled at getting information from company databases, namely the information that's on the back of your credit card.

So, the harvester gets the data and then sells it to eastern Europe, which has become the hub of credit card fraud. From there, your information may wind up on a new card and inserted into an ATM somewhere in the world.

I talked to Elinor Mills of CNET.com about the market for this information. And just like oil or any other commodity, the price actually fluctuates.

Elinor Mills: The prices have dropped interestingly from highs of $10 to $16 per record in mid-2007 to less than $1.50 per record today.

That's because the market's been oversaturated with credit card numbers. So many have been stolen. It's amazingly easy to get this stuff on the Internet. I did a simple Google search and found a Web site where people were listing prices for credit card numbers. And it was pretty much like a menu, you could order a card for $1.50, just the number, or for $3, you could order a card with the security code. And for 15 bucks, you could get a card with the Social Security number, date of birth and PIN. And on the same Web site, I saw one woman's entire life posted: her account numbers, her password, her address, the answers to those secret questions, her mother's maiden name. Everything.

It reminded me why I'm so vigilant about checking my balances and checking my credit report. I used to think it wouldn't happen to me. Until it did.

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It doesn't require a credit card or a hacker. Bank of America (and I have a letter from them confirming most of this, after I complained to Compt. of Currency) changed my account address in response to a fraudulent caller - to an address that had been used for fraud 6 months before - sent the caller a statement with cash advance checks, and printed up a special book of checks to access my savings account, and sent those too. Their security expert sent me an email saying that they would only have asked the caller for my name, address and dob, and only ask more if they got those wrong. When in the nightmare months that followed I said "those are available on the web, and for a few dollar you can get my SSN too" they said they would call this to the attention of their security experts. They gave me two free years of their credit monitoring program.

Can you give an example of the website which contains all of that security information for sale (the lady whose secret questions and answers are for sale)?

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