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Fake leaks: how scammers defraud each other

Arbitration rooms on popular cybercriminal forums reveal that crooks go to great lengths to scam each other. Fraudsters often sell fake tools and databases to rip each other off.

A recent report by cybersecurity company Sophos offered a glimpse into how cybercriminals scam each other. They've lost at least $2.5 million, and different complaints on arbitration rooms in popular cybercriminal forums give researchers and law enforcement valuable insight into scammers' ways of defrauding their victims.

The second part of Sophos' research dives into the most common scams cybercriminals deploy against each other.

Rip-and-run is the most popular scam amongst crooks. This scam works in two ways: a buyer pays for the goods but never receives them, or the buyer receives what they ordered but never pays the seller.

Arbitration rooms on cybercriminal forums can't do much about it. They usually ban the scammer but don't help out the victim to get their money back.

Another popular scam is the sale of fake leaks and tools. For example, a crook lists a database for sale, but it turns out the same dataset had already been made available to the public or is simply an old one.

Crooks also sell various hacking tools to each other, but a buyer sometimes finds themselves with a simple PDF document instead of, for example, malware they attempted to purchase.

"We saw numerous examples of users buying services, tools, and frameworks which were not as advertised or which did not meet requirements. The accused don't usually do a runner after pulling these scams, but instead, as one commenter pointed out in the PDF/exe thread, hope that their 'marks' don't understand what they're paying for. It's an attempted deception rather than explicit scamming," Sophos said.

Referral scams are also among the most common ones where a threat actor with a reasonably good reputation score refers to another one, and they split the victim's money in the end.

Escrow scams, or fake guarantors, are another popular way to defraud criminals. In this case, there's a middleman – an escrow who holds the funds while waiting for confirmation from the buyer about the goods. Some scammers impersonate these middlemen and then simply disappear with the funds.

"Moving on to more sophisticated attacks, we saw several scam reports about backdoored malware – that is, malware sold or distributed on the forums which contain code designed to covertly attack its operators and steal their data," Sophos noted.

It also observed numerous typosquatting, phishing, and scam forum sites designed to trick users out of a 'registration fee' or steal credentials for genuine criminal marketplaces.

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