USA TODAY - If you see a $9.84 charge on your credit card statement, you should give it a hard look.
The Better Business Bureau says scammers are charging stolen credit card numbers for a small amount of money, and many recent victims were charged $9.84. The scammers believe few cardholders will review purchases involving such small amounts -- and that credit card companies won't aggressively investigate them, either, the bureau says.
Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com, tells USA TODAY that cardholders too often overlook small charges.
"It can be a lot easier for a crook to steal small amounts from thousands of customers than large amounts from a few," Detweiler says. "This kind of theft can be extremely easy since it's unlikely to raise red flags."
Anyone can buy 10,000 stolen payment card numbers in online forums where stolen data, malicious software programs and a variety of other illicit goods and services are sold in eBay-like exchanges. That's because stolen credit card data floods into criminal forums on a steady basis.
More than 740 million records were exposed in 2013, making it the worst year in terms of data breaches recorded -- and that's a very conservative estimate, according to the Online Trust Alliance.
The bureau does not connect the scam to the security breach involving more than 100 million Target customers. Brian Krebs, whose blog krebsonsecurity.com has monitored the scam, tells USA TODAY it predates the Target breach. But he says many cardholders are reviewing their charges more closely, thus discovering the scam.
Mark McCurley, information security advisor at consultancy Identity Theft 911, says that cybercriminal gangs from Cyprus, UK and India are known for purchasing stolen credit card numbers on the black market and making fraudulent $9.84 charges.
What makes the Cyprian, British and Indian scammers distinctive is their diligence in purchasing dozens of domain names, then creating dummy web sites that appear credible. With that infrastructure in place, they have been using stolen payment card numbers, likely purchased in the cyberunderground, to make successions of small charges, McCurley says.
Krebs says it's not clear how big the fraud is, "but when you see hundreds of pages of complaints on customer complaint forums, you know it's big." He says the scam apparently spiked around the holidays, when credit card bills tend to be bloated with purchases large and small. He advises anyone who uncovers a fraudulent $9.84 charge to get a new credit card.
"It's a good bet that your card is in the hands of crooks," Krebs says. "and is likely to be abused like this again."
The bureau says the source listed on the credit card bill is a generic landing page that claims to offer "Customer Support." The text promises to "refund 100% of your last payment" and provides a phone number and e-mail address.
"The whole thing can be built around that phone number," Krebs tells USA TODAY. "If you complain, they want to take it off because they don't want you to complain to Visa or Mastercard."
The bureau says some victims of the $9.84 scam report calling the "customer support" site and receiving verbal confirmation that the charge would be canceled. "Don't take the scammers at their word," the bureau warns.
Detweiler says not all scammers will refund the money. Some promise a refund but never produce it. "That gives them time to pocket as much money as possible before they close shop -- to likely set up shop again under another name," she says.
Detweiler stresses the importance of disputing even a small fraudulent charge right away. She says the scammer could be "testing the waters" with your card. If they are, then bigger charges may follow.
"This seems like a run of the mill stolen card scam," says Cameron Camp, a researcher at antivirus firm ESET. "The idea is to keep the scam running under the radar for as long as possible with a series of tiny transactions designed to avert suspicion."
(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)