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Inside the Dark Web

A criminologist explains how criminals access and trade illegal goods

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The criminal side of the internet, the Dark Web, is unknown to most of us. This week’s guest, criminologist David Maimon, takes us behind the curtain into a world where criminals talk to one another anonymously and the personal identifying information of thousands of unsuspecting victims is up for sale. Learn how Maimon’s research warns of emerging trends and how consumers can protect themselves.

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Full transcript


[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.


[00:00:05] You've reached the Open Up S Channel. My name is Sanchez. Yes, I sell Chase bank accounts. Yes, I am one of the first people who started to sell bank accounts four years ago. But actively working in this field began in 2022.


[00:00:27] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan.


[00:00:33] Bob: The Dark Web, you've probably heard about it full of internet criminals, the place where stolen data is bought and sold, where anonymity enables, well, almost anything. But you've probably never been to the Dark Web until today. David Maimon spends a lot of time there conducting research at Georgia State University. He and his students create fake personas, go undercover, and lurk in these dark corners of the internet learning all they can about the computer underground. If you've picked up an AARP Bulletin this month, then you probably read the article about David Maimon. Here at The Perfect Scam we wanted to dive a little bit deeper into the Dark Web with David. Whatever you're heard about it, well that's just the tip of the iceberg as you'll hear David tell us. But even before we get to that, first David will explain why there's just so many people involved in cybercrime these days. It's all because of what David calls the greatest heist in history.

[00:01:39] David Maimon: Well what we're seeing here in, in the last uh five years or so, essentially a transition and that, that started in COVID times where you know the greatest heist of all times happened, criminals stealing billions of dollars from the government assuming other people's identities, submitting fraudulent unemployment benefits application, and fraudulent SBA loans application and, and then getting them in drop accounts, like mule accounts, uh mule bank accounts they were able to open and then run away with the money. You know the greatest heist of all time. We're talking about, I mean some estimates talk about close to a trillion dollars, other talk about maybe less than that, but within a period of two years a lot of money being lost and that money is essentially stimulus money that the government uh put out there for citizens to go through the tough COVID time. Folks realized that it's fairly very easy to get in fraud during that time, and that they can engage with many other people in this type of crime. And they started to engage in, branch out, sort of speaking and look for other opportunities to engage in, in fraud.

[00:02:51] Bob: You’re probably heard a lot about scams that made the rounds during Covid times. Many targeted consumers, but government agencies were targeted too. Here’s just one mind-numbing number: the Government Accountability Office now estimates that between 100 billion and $135 billion was stolen by imposters applying for unemployment insurance from state agencies.

[00:03:22] Bob: Just crazy to think about, but I, I think the point you're making also is really, really important which is that brought a whole bunch of people into the fraud business who now are trained and so it made this line of work seem very attractive. So now we have to deal with the fallout from that, right?

[00:03:39] David Maimon: It opened the can of worms, so to speaking, and now, now we're dealing with this.

[00:03:45] Bob: Like a conquering army returning home after a war, restless and looking for something else to conquer, the criminals drawn into cybercrime by the pandemic are out there now conducting more and more crimes looking for more and more victims. That's the world we're dealing with now. And that's why the rate of scams seems to be exploding. And many of these criminals, well they gather on the Dark Web to connect and to hone their craft, and that's where David and his team track what they're doing. David wasn't always a cybersecurity expert; he actually began his career in sociology.

[00:04:26] Bob: I personally think it's really important that people from all sorts of disciplines get involved in this problem. What do you bring from your sociology background that helps you in cybersecurity do you think?

[00:04:38] David Maimon: I've been doing this for quite a while now, and uh I can tell you at the beginning when I first started doing this line of work, um, I think that most of what we, we brought at the time was knowledge about the human factor, knowledge about how human behave, how human think. Uh I can think about things like heuristics and decision-making processes that we were testing in cyber space, and specifically testing with hackers and online offenders. A lot of knowledge about sociological models, psychological models that we brought and which we were really interested in examining in cyberspace. I can say that now, and with the time and the mileage I was able to accrue with this line of work, I can definitely say that we bring some technical knowledge as well. We simply learn as you walk.

[00:05:23] Bob: David wanted to study the people on the Dark Web along with the crimes they're committing, and so the evidence-based cybersecurity research group at Georgia State University was born. David is its Director.

[00:05:37] Bob: People are, of course, I'm sure always interested in hearing from you about the Dark Web, so let's talk a little bit about, about that, first of all, what, what is the Dark Web?

[00:05:45] David Maimon: Yeah, it's, it's a very good question, and typically when I talk about the Dark Net and I'm trying to understand or explain the Dark Web to folks, I wanted to refer to this really famous image that most cybersecurity experts, as well as cybercrime scholars refer to when, when they sort of try to explain uh what the Dark Web is, and that is the image of an iceberg. An iceberg, you know, a large mass of ice that has broken off from a glacier or ice shelf and then simply floating in open water. You know folks probably would, would know that we observe above water is the tip of the iceberg, and then the majority of the iceberg is submersed in water. And so when I explain, I try to explain what the Dark Web is, I want folks to imagine this iceberg and I want them to think about the Clear Net, the internet they're using on a daily basis as the tip of the iceberg. So you know, 10% of the internet as, as we use it, between 10 to 12% of the internet as, as you know folks are familiar with, is you know the tip of the iceberg. The majority of the internet though is what we call uh the Deep Web. The Deep Web is essentially submerged, right, in deep water. It requires folks with specific software here to access it.

[00:07:10] Bob: So, most of the internet, the Dark Web or the Deep Web or the Dark Net, is operating away from our view.

[00:07:19] Bob: Why do we call it Dark?

[00:07:21] David Maimon: Well the reason why we call the Deep Web or the Dark Net dark, is because of this extra level of anonymity that is being granted to you once you use this ecosystem. If you think about the internet the way you use it right now, the Clear Net, you know you're probably using https protocol which allows some level of anonymity, but you know anyone at the end of the day who will monitor the traffic coming from my computer or your computer to the server will be able to tell where we are communicating from. What happens on the Dark Net, especially once, once you sort of use uh software like Tor, is that you're granted with an extra level of anonymity. Essentially what happens is that the traffic is being encrypted several times and being routed through a very sophisticated algorithm, and so when someone is trying to figure out who's communicating with a server and where from, all they will be able to get in terms of information, uh, will be information that the person is using Tor, uh the Tor router, you know to communicate uh with, with a server.

[00:08:20] Bob: So operating in the dark as it were.

[00:08:23] David Maimon: Exactly. So, so it has nothing to do with any sort of malicious or illegal activities that takes place on those platforms. It has to do a lot with the fact that uh when someone is trying to track you on those ecosystems, they're completely in the dark. You're completely anonymous, very difficult to track uh who you are and where you are.

[00:08:42] Bob: It is difficult to track who you are and where you are and that makes it an attractive place to do things you don't want anyone else to know about.

[00:08:53] David Maimon: One important thing that we need to understand about the Deep Web is that you know because of this technology, it offers this added level of anonymity when you're accessing databases or website over the Dark Web. And so this extra level of anonymity at the end of the day makes the Deep Web extremely attractive for criminals to use it in their online illegal activities. They can set up markets on the Deep Web where they sell drugs, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, guns, and identities and sometimes even people. They can sell hacking tools, they can open forums where they discuss all type of illegal activities. They do that on the Dark Web simply because they feel anonymous, they seem comfortable that folks will not be able to detect where they are and who they are. And so the Deep Web is essentially known, or a portion of the Deep Web is essentially known for this type of activity.

[00:09:53] Bob: But time out. The Dark Web isn't just about crime. There are plenty of people who want, or who need anonymity to do their very important work.

[00:10:05] David Maimon: It's very important for me to emphasize that while this activity, this illegal activity takes place on the Dark Web, there, there's a lot of legitimate activities taking place over the Dark Web, you know, that includes the work of whistleblowers and journalists who are trying to disguise their activity and they don't expose their identity as well as their location. And other folks who use the, the Deep Web in order to engage in legitimate activities. You can access most websites using the Deep Web, you can access Facebook, you can access the CIA websites, you know they have specific websites on the, on the Deep Web, and you can also listen to radio on the Deep Web.

[00:10:50] Bob: So without going into too much detail, how does David and his team, or how does anyone get below the tip of the iceberg? Get into the Dark Web?

[00:11:01] David Maimon: You know when you think about the Dark Web, we essentially refer to a part of the internet that is not indexed by traditional search engine and is inaccessible through standard web browser. You need specific technology in order to uh access it. And so, you know, all those websites which are protected with firewalls or which requires specific software in order to access them, they will be considered part of the Deep Web.

[00:11:28] Bob: I think it's important to mention that while the Dark Web, Dark Net all sounds very mysterious maybe to the average internet user, it's not actually hard to access, right?

[00:11:40] David Maimon: Very simple to access it. All you have to do, I mean there a couple of software, a couple of browsers that you can download to your computer, the Onion Router Browser is, is one of those browsers you can download, but there are other software such a I2P where you can download to your computer and, and access uh you know different parts of the Dark Web. Very much similar to using the Clear Net, regular internet as, as we are currently using it.

[00:12:07] Bob: So your team monitors this Dark Web?

[00:12:10] David Maimon: Yeah, I mean so one of the things we do in Georgia State is we downloaded this browser to our computers. We have our own network which allows us to be on the Dark Net and look for interesting websites to monitor. You know we have many students sitting in our labs, uh on a daily basis, look for interesting websites, interesting markets, interesting forums to monitor on the Dark Net. Uh most of the markets we monitor are markets where people feel comfortable to sell all kind of illicit commodities, uh starting from drugs, moving to weapons, identities, stolen credit cards, compromised bank accounts, counterfeit products, and sometimes even people. And so what my group does is uh, we monitor all those markets, we monitor a large number of hackers' forums as well, and on a monthly basis, download all the information from those markets to our computers in order to really understand what are some of the hot commodities out there. What are some of the illegal activities folks are engaging in, uh this month. Who are some of the targets the criminals are essentially trying to victimize? Those important questions we tend to answer using information we download from the Dark Net, as well as other platforms.

[00:13:37] Bob: So I wish we could show people, I mean it's remarkable the first time someone sees criminal information like this flying by. This is a podcast, so I can't show people visually, but I wonder if you could just, just give me a couple of examples, you know, in a specific way, as, as specifically as you can of what you see when you monitor the Dark Web.

[00:13:56] David Maimon: Sure so the markets we see are very similar to markets folks see on the Clear Net. So you can imagine markets such as Amazon or eBay or any other online shop you try to access on the Clear Net. One major difference, and that is the fact that the type of commodities folks feel comfortable to sell over the market is, is illicit. So you can imagine a market or ads folks put up there on the market, advertising their commodity with you know a lot of praises for the quality of the commodity. You will see on the ad the prices of the commodity. You will see a description of the commodity; it may be drugs, identities, stolen credit cards, what have you. And oftentime depending on the vendor's reputation, you will also see reviews on both the quality of the commodity, as well as the vendor performances and the level of trust. Very similar to what we see in Amazon, but Amazon and eBay and other platform that you're using, the Clear Net in order to uh, purchase things, but you know the major difference is that in the Dark Net those reviews some would argue play a more important role in building trust between the vendor and the customer simply because you know at the end of the day, you are buying an illicit commodity, and there is this probability that the vendor will rip you, sort of speaking. Rip you off and sort of take your money and run away with it. So this is a typical layout uh of those markets; a product with a price, rating...

[00:15:34] Bob: So I'm browsing to buy say a batch of people's Social Security numbers or something like that, and I'm going to see vendors that have, you know 4.5-star reviews, that kind of thing?

[00:15:44] David Maimon: Yeah, I mean you may be able to see that, uh and in a very similar vein to what we're seeing in other legitimate uh online markets, you will take a look at not only the rating, but on how many, on the number of people who actually provide it with a rating. You know you want to see whether you're familiar with some of those aliases folks are using out there. You will take a look at their reviews the same way you do with uh, reviews that you read through when you buy a new TV or a new laptop.

[00:16:12] Bob: Look at a hotel room or something.

[00:16:13] David Maimon: Exactly, yeah.

[00:16:14] Bob: Wow.

[00:16:15] David Maimon: In addition to the markets, you also have forums, and maybe you know if you want to create this, this comprehensive image of the type of shops you have of the markets, we need to mention those. The forums are very similar to any forum folks are familiar with where people simply post comments on different topics, the only difference is that some of the comments could include stolen data, could include ideas for hacks, could include you know conversation around some hacking tools, or other types of technology that criminals could use in the context of their illicit operations.

[00:16:51] Bob: And those forums are places where criminals brag about what they've stolen and what they have for sale. David shared this clip with us.

[00:17:02] (clip) You've reached the Open Up S Channel. My name is Sanchez. Yes, I sell Chase bank accounts. Yes, I am one of the first people who started to sell bank accounts four years ago. But actively working in this field began in 2022. We started with my partner four years ago. Now we are about 30 people in one office. I will answer a couple of questions. Buyers ask where I disappeared. In fact, I did not go anywhere. I am still with you. At the moment we are resting with the team because we worked for a year without breaks. It was very difficult. When is the next update? I can't say for sure. But I'm sure it will be in the coming weeks. We are preparing for (inaudible) Chase at a good price. This is just the beginning.

[00:17:57] Bob: Here is a shorter clip where a criminal boasts about stealing a key that opens mail boxes in rap form.

[00:18:06] (clip) I'm gonna capture a little bro, I got my key right here bro. Got my key right here, got the time right there. Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. And I got the slips right there, and my gun right there.

[00:18:24] David Maimon: And so those forums are very vibrant and as well, and you can purchase a lot of interesting illicit commodities there as well. And then, finally you have those standalone shops, you know similarly to standalone shops who feel comfortable open a website, creating a website and selling their commodities on the Clear Net. We see more and more criminals using the Dark Net to open their own shops where they sell drugs, where they sell counterfeit product, where they sell fake passport and, and fake driver licenses from their own shop instead of, you know, on the market. This, in a way, gives you a more comprehensive picture of the type of shops which are operating on the Dark Net and, and support the sales and, and purchase of illicit commodities. Hopefully, it makes sense, Bob.

[00:19:14] Bob: Naturally, criminals using the Dark Web in these semi-public forums know that other people know about them too. So, while it can be a starting point for criminals to connect, some of the more important conversations happen over more private channels. And David's team is there too.

[00:19:34] David Maimon: On the Dark Net, essentially what you will see is an ad, uh very generic, you will not be able to see the image or the name of the person uh whom check you're buying. And what you will be doing is discussing with the vendor the quality of the batch of IDs you want to purchase. And maybe you will get a, you know, a sample but nothing more than that sort of speaking. Uh, the conversation will be done usually either over the websites or over text message applications, most vendors like to use text message applications simply because they're more immediate in terms of responses. So you know you can engage uh with the customer uh in a more efficient manner. And yeah, I mean this is a typical sort of way you sort of do business on the Dark Web.

[00:20:19] Bob: This move towards private chats has made David's work a bit more tricky. It's almost made things more tricky for law enforcement.

[00:20:27] David Maimon: Because yeah, everybody talk about the fact that uh, criminals like those text message applications simply because they're encrypted, uh, end to end encrypted which essentially means that nobody can monitor like or, or track the information, right, that is being transferred between a vendor and a customer. The problem though is that if you open a group chat and then you invite everyone to be part of the conversation, then, you know, everybody can sort of see what is that uh, you are discussing with, with everybody over that channel. So what, what we're seeing during the last uh three years or so is, is a movement from the Dark Net towards the use of those platforms, encrypted communication platforms, text message applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram and Signal and, and Jabbar where the criminals essentially open group chats and invite folks who believe they can do business with to be part of the group.

[00:21:23] Bob: So now your challenge is to become a trusted member of these groups.

[00:21:26] David Maimon: Right, so the challenge is to develop this sock puppets as well call uh personas, the criminals believe that it makes sense to invite them to be on their groups. So what's interesting in the text message application and that is very different than what you observe on the Dark Net is the wealth of information folks feel comfortable to share. So if in the Dark Net as we've discussed, folks just uploaded an ad telling you that they have a bunch of identities to sell or telling you that they have you know a few checks that they're interested in, in selling, or a bunch of credit card numbers. In Telegram or WhatsApp in those text message applications, the criminals feel comfortable to actually share the information and, and share images with the type of information they have for sale. So imagine instead of saying, hey, I have a check I want to sell, and that'll be on the Dark Net, you'll actually upload an image of the check deleting the account and, and routing numbers from the check, and simply upload it on the check telling folks, hey, this check is for sale, who wants to buy it? So this visual aspect is to me very interesting and in a way make our life easier in terms of understanding how the criminals operate, what they have for sale, whether they are legitimate, right, in terms of actually selling this commodity and whether they can deliver this type of commodity that they say they have.

[00:23:03] Bob: You're going undercover, yeah, so the criminals thing you're a criminal?

[00:23:07] David Maimon: Criminal thinks that my persona is deviant, yeah.

[00:23:10] Bob: So does, does that bring with it all the things that undercover work brings? You know sometimes maybe you have to say things that are a touch uncomfortable to gain credibility, for example.

[00:23:20] David Maimon: It really depends. Uh, it depends on your goals, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. Uh, in the context of our operation I can say that uh we are more likely to lurk, uh less likely to have conversations, but of course, every now and then we'll have conversation which we're trying to understand the specific type of operation or try to learn more about specific actor, but most often, we're simply in the background listening to folks, their conversations, tracking the type of information they put out there and trying to make sense out of it.

[00:23:54] Bob: In the movies, the undercover narcotics cop once in a while gets challenged and has to take drugs, for example, to prove that they are uh, trustworthy in the, in the underworld. Did... is there a digital equivalent of that for you?

[00:24:08] David Maimon: Yeah, we're seeing more and more of that happening. But this happens more, I would say, on some of the hackers' forums, on the Dark Net. Folks will not allow you in some of the, you know, most secretive groups unless you purchase something or you know in the context of hacking, unless you uh show evidence that you actually hacked in the past. Yeah, that makes things more complicated.

[00:24:31] Bob: These experiences on the dark side of the internet teach David and his students a lot.

[00:24:37] David Maimon: We had a few operations where we where we actually uh, got permission to, to purchase things. And so there's a lot of learning happening there as well simply because some people, as you can guess, say that they can deliver on things that uh they don't want to deliver. So sometimes it happen if you send people money and you get nothing in return, you know there's a lot of learning that happens uh in this ecosystem, and so it's, it's really fascinating for both the students and me.

[00:25:04] Bob: And things don't always go perfectly according to plan.

[00:25:10] David Maimon: One of the stories I can share is, uh, one of my students joining for the first time to the ecosystem, and then I think that his first task was to find some information. Instead of just being there, lurk, pivot from one platform to another, trying to sort of observe passively, the guy simply asked folks where he can find this information, and it was so funny because he burned the sock puppet in like 5 minutes. So, you know, even though they didn't dox the guy, I mean they couldn't really get to his real identity, they figured out that the guy was sort of, you know, either a scholar or a police officer or someone who doesn't really belong to the ecosystem, and they flagged him immediately.

[00:25:50] Bob: I'm sure that was a learning experience.

[00:25:52] David Maimon: It was. I mean we; we learned a lot.

[00:25:55] Bob: The student blew his digital cover so to speak. Fortunately, that was a harmless mistake. But I asked David, is his work ever dangerous?

[00:26:08] David Maimon: It depends. There's always this um, possibility for the criminals to dox you, meaning expose your identity out there. I can say that it could definitely happen. And that's why you have to be extremely cautious when you're there. You need to learn the ecosystem before you actually engage if you would like to engage. You need to use all the precautions you can in order to make sure that even if folks realize that you are not who you say you are, they will not be able to track your real identity and target you.

[00:26:42] Bob: Has anything ever happened to you that's felt dangerous?

[00:26:45] David Maimon: Yeah, something happened to us, but it didn't hap--, it, it's not that folks doxed us. Folks simply, uh, because I talk to the media a lot, and because I talk about things which are happening currently, you know, we're trying to keep our hands dirty and so you know we keep talking about issues the criminals are working on right now, some criminals thought that it would be a good idea to reach out to me and threaten me, actually open a, you know bank accounts under my name, and, and sending debit cards to my house just to prove that they can, but yeah, I mean that, that definitely happened, to an extent still happens but it doesn't really happen because of them doxing me and, and the activity on those platforms I'm heavily immersed in, but simply because of the fact that uh, my name is simply out there.

[00:27:33] Bob: A criminal sent a debit card to your house?

[00:27:35] David Maimon: Yeah, I mean when, when we first started talking about the check fraud issue here in the United States in 2021, you know in 2022 the, the early 2022, you know after a, a big story in the Washington Post, the criminals simply texted me and told me I need to stop working on this issue uh or else bad things will happen. They texted me my Social Security number, they texted me my address, they texted me some family members' information as well. You know, of course we freaked out and you know unfortunately five minutes after they texted me, all my information was leaked to the ecosystem we, we were seeing. So of course the university, uh didn't want to take any chances and so I was walking with security detail for a period of almost a month, and uh, it was scary experience to prove a point folks opened a bank account under my name and sent it, the debit card to my house just to prove that they can, that I should have, you know, watch out. So yeah, that happens as well.

[00:28:33] Bob: Wow, I'm, I'm sorry. That, that must have been to walk around with security for a month, that must have been pretty freaky.

[00:28:38] David Maimon: Yeah, it wasn't, it wasn't pleasant.

[00:28:41] Bob: You probably have the same question I have right now. How does lurking in the Dark Web, communicating with all these criminals, taking all these risks, how does that help?

[00:28:54] Bob: How does lurking in this ecosystem further the mission of the evidence-based cybersecurity research group? What tools do and don't work? How does those two things connect?

[00:29:03] David Maimon: So remember, we talk about tools and we talk about policies. And we also talk about law enforcement operations on the ecosystem. If you think about the Dark Net for example, one of the things that the group tries to understand is whether the current efforts law enforcement engage in, shutting down markets in the Dark Net, seizing servers are, are really effective in disrupting the ecosystem. And you know once you collect data in a systematic way from many markets out there, and you simply wait for something to happen, at some point something will happen, and that something will be law enforcement taking down a server or taking down a market or two. And then that allows you with a really cool natural experiment when you can try to figure out how the ecosystem behaved before the takedown and after the takedown. And one of our conclusions do this for a long period of time, and testing you know the before and after activities in the ecosystem, you know make me believe that what law enforcement currently do, doesn't really work in the context of disruption. Yes, they may have a few criminals sitting behind bars, but in terms of disrupting the ecosystem effectively, there, there are a lot of papers out there, scientific papers, research papers, uh which suggest that that might not be the answer to an effective disruption of the ecosystem. In a similar vein, we're trying to figure out what will be the best practices folks can take, like law enforcement can take, disrupting the ecosystem which have evolved in the context of text message applications. You know, if you think about agencies here in the United States which are responsible for delivering the mail, or responsible for issuing, you know, all kind of benefits in the form of cards, the question is whether whatever we do in order to protect those services is really effective or not. And whether the changes that those agencies take, once we flag that an issue exists with the respect to the current way they do things, really work and we really see an impact on the ecosystem in the form of either reduction in the line of commodities the criminals offer which relate to these governmental agencies or not. Hopefully, that answered the question.

[00:31:24] Bob: Yeah, that's really interesting. So there have been, through the years, all these very high-profile takedowns of say websites devoted to trading stolen credit cards, um, and I've always wondered, but it sounds like what you are saying is, you know, maybe a couple people go to jail, but for the most part, all those criminals just scatter and reform somewhere else. Is that right?

[00:31:43] David Maimon: Yeah, I mean we, we actually published an article in 2022 where we looked at the strength of relationship and essentially where people go to you know in terms of the different markets that the businesses before and after the takedown of the market. And essentially what you see is that once you take down one market or two, people simply aggregate in different places in, in different markets. So that, that doesn't do the trick. The emergence of text message application as, as an alternative form to the business is another sort of response the criminal had for those takedowns. So instead of you know going on the Dark Net which is, you know, very slow and, you know sometimes police can take down a, a website and sort of it may have some short-term impact on the business, you can open a, a group chat on Telegram or WhatsApp and do business that way and business will flow sort of speaking in that sense. So in terms of disruption, those takedowns doesn't really disrupt the ecosystem unfortunately.

[00:32:46] Bob: Naturally, I asked David what he tells law enforcement to do instead. And perhaps you won't be surprised to hear that he demurred. He doesn't want to tip his hand to the criminals. But he did say, as we did at the beginning of this episode, that crime is on the rise. The tools are just easier to come by now and frankly, crime pays right now.

[00:33:10] David Maimon: Both the Dark Net, but I would say to a larger extent the text message applications criminals use on a daily basis simply fueled the volume of fraud that we're seeing in our society during the last five years or so. And that essentially means that engaging in fraud has become more prevalent, more accessible to folks from all parts of the population, and you know we're talking here about adolescents, we're talking about, you know, kids, we're talking about folks with families, we're talking about older folks, everybody can get access to uh the right tools, the right information, being paired with a gang who engage in fraud in a fairly easy manner. So to me, the most important message that I would like to sort of try and convey to our listeners is the fact that fraud nowadays unfortunately has become so prevalent and so easy for folks to perform that we, as folks who try to protect ourselves from, from this type of crime, needs to be more vigilant and we need to be more proactive with respect to defending our identities, protecting our identities, protecting our loved ones identities because we're at a point where all our identities are out there. Many of our identities are being used by local actors. We need to be aware of this issue and we need to be proactive in our efforts to prevent folks from victimizing us.

[00:34:39] Bob: I, I think the thing that would probably be most surprising to folks is just how large the criminal gangs are. I've seen you use the word supply chain in the past. I mean there's an amazing institution of levels of, of workers who all are hard at work trying to steal money from us, right?

[00:34:55] David Maimon: Yeah, unfortunately at this point folks realize that it's very easy to engage in fraud, well easy if you know what to do, right? It's, it's quite easy to perform it. And it makes more sense to engage in fraud than selling drugs on the other hand. And, and then risking your life standing on the street doing this kind of activity.

[00:35:17] Bob: Committing fraud is easier than selling drugs on the street. And now we have to contend with a whole new set of criminals who learned their craft during COVID.

[00:35:29] Bob: The way you put it was just so succinct that COVID was basically like scam university for who knows how many thousands of people, and now we've got all these well-trained criminals out there looking for the next trillion dollars to steal, right?

[00:35:43] David Maimon: That's right. And, and they're very organized, they have a very neat system they work with, you know with different actors operating different rules along the supply chain. I mean I believe that the next couple of years will be extremely challenging to financial institutions and the government here in the United States because of that issue.

[00:36:03] Bob: The next couple of years will be extremely challenging. So, what is David's advice to Perfect Scam listeners?

[00:36:12] David Maimon: There are a couple of ways folks can protect themselves and, and their identities at this point. I think one of the things folks need to do is they need to purchase an identity theft protection plan which uh would allow them to know whether someone is using your identity to open a bank account, hopefully, if you're lucky, ask for a new credit card. The identity theft protection plans are, are essentially very good flagging those issues. Uh, I think another very important thing folks need to do, is they need to freeze their credit scores. And at this point in our society, I think this is something that everybody should, should do. It's, it's free, it takes maybe five minutes to lift your freeze from your credit when you want to purchase something, and then another minute to just freeze the credit again. So you know I think that everybody should freeze their credit just to make sure that nobody can take a loan under their name. I also believe that folks should get familiarized with a consumer agency called Chex System, which keeps tracks of the bank accounts, each and every one of us has under their name. So the major problem here in the US with bank accounts is that it's very difficult to know how many bank accounts you have under your name. And so Chex System keep track on that, and you can ask for a report to be sent to your home on an annual basis for free and you know if you want the frequency to be higher, you can actually pay for that, where you can get a detailed report with all the bank accounts you have under your name. And so you know if in the report you identify a bank account you're not familiar with, you can definitely then call the bank and say, "Hey, it's not me." And the bank will definitely close the account. So identity theft, protection plan, freezing your credit lines, and monitoring your bank accounts on Chex System, I think these are the best suggestion I can provide folks at this point.

[00:38:13] Bob: By the way, you can find ChexSystems at – and that Chex is spelled C-H-E-X – So C-H-E-X-S-Y-S-T-E-M-S DOT COM.   Thanks, I think, for the tour of the Dark Web, David. For The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.


[00:38:47] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Our email address at The Perfect Scam is:, and we want to hear from you. If you've been the victim of a scam or you know someone who has, and you'd like us to tell their story, write to us. That address again is: Thank you to our team of scambusters; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Becky Dodson; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; and our Audio Engineer and Sound Designer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.



The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.


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