A postcard from the Romanian town nicknamed "Hackerville."
This story from Wired Magazine makes me wonder if money transfer companies such as Western Union can do anything to combat these crimes.
"Among law enforcement officials around the world, the city of 120,000 has a nickname: Hackerville. It’s something of a misnomer; the town is indeed full of online crooks, but only a small percentage of them are actual hackers. Most specialize in ecommerce scams and malware attacks on businesses. According to authorities, these schemes have brought tens of millions of dollars into the area over the past decade, fueling the development of new apartment buildings, nightclubs, and shopping centers. Râmnicu Vâlcea is a town whose business is cybercrime, and business is booming."
"But what really stands out in Râmnicu Vâlcea
are the money transfer offices. At least
two dozen Western Union locations lie
within a four-block area downtown."
"...One early advance was establishing fake escrow services: Victims would be asked to send payments to these supposedly trustworthy third parties, which had websites that made them look like legitimate companies. The scams got better over the years, too. To explain unbelievably low prices for used cars, for example, a crook would pose as a US soldier stationed abroad, with a vehicle in storage back home that he had to sell. (That tale also established a plausible US contact to receive the money, instead of someone in Romania.) In the early years, the thieves would simply ask for advance payment for the nonexistent vehicle. As word of the scam spread, the sellers began offering to send the cars for inspection—asking for no payment except “shipping.”I like how the criminals became smarter than the Nigerian fraudsters who send fake letters with misspellings and bad grammar.
The con artists got even sneakier. “They learned to create scenarios,” says Michael Eubanks, an FBI agent in Bucharest. “We’ve seen email between criminals with instructions on how to respond to different questions.” The scammers started hiring English speakers to craft emails to US targets. Specialists emerged to occupy niches in the industry, designing fake websites or coordinating low-level confederates.How a Remote Town in Romania Has Become Cybercrime Central, Wired (single page)>>
By 2005, Romania had become widely known as a haven for online fraud, and buyers became wary of sending money there. The swindlers adapted again, arranging for payments to be wired to other European countries, where accomplices picked up the cash. A new entry level evolved, people who’d act as couriers and money launderers for a cut of the take. These money mules were called arrows, and their existence elevated Râmnicu Vâlcea to a hub of international organized crime."