Federal prosecutors have uncovered what could turn out to be the largest hacking and identity theft ring to date. Over 40 million credit card numbers are believed to have been compromised.
The credit card numbers were stolen from large department stores including:
- Barnes and Noble
- T.J. Maxx
- Office Max
- The Sports Authority
- BJ’s Wholesale
There were 11 people charged from as many as five different countries including the United States, China, Estonia and Belarus. Investigators know that at least one of the eleven ringleaders still at large.
Police believe the hackers drove around looking for loopholes in wireless security networks. When they found one, they installed a “sniffer program” – a program that taps into the merchant’s credit card system and steals their customer’s credit card and pin numbers.
The thieves took it a step further though. They chose some of the credit card numbers and had the numbers imprinted on new, blank credit cards. That way they could withdraw cash at ATM’s, or shop anywhere they wanted to. Right now authorities believe that they sold the rest of the numbers on the black market, as well as selling them on underground internet trading sites.
The head of the identity theft ring is believed to be a man named Albert Gonzalez from Miami. He was indicted Wednesday on enough charges to earn him life in prison (identity theft, computer fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to name only a few).
Apparently, Mr. Gonzalez had previously worked for the FBI as an informant – that’s after he got his hand caught in the cookie jar the first time. That’s how the whole thing went down. The Secret Service got wise to Gonzalez, and they traced him to his accomplices.
So, what can you do if you are worried that your credit card accounts have been compromised?
Start by checking your credit report, and your credit card statements carefully. If you have reason to suspect fraudulent activity, then make sure you freeze your credit reports until you get things straightened out.
What do you think about all this mess? Have you ever shopped at any of these stores?