April 24, 2012 By Amit Klein 2 min read

We recently uncovered a scam in an underground forum that shows how data obtained through phishing and malware attacks can be used to make one of the oldest forms of fraud — check forging — even harder to prevent. The scam involves a criminal selling preprinted checks linked to corporate bank accounts in the United States, United Kingdom and China.

Check Fraud Meets the Digital Age

To pull off this scam, the criminal sells falsified bank checks made with specialized printing equipment, ink and paper. For $5 each, he or she will supply checks that use stolen bank account credentials provided by the buyer. However, to purchase checks that use stolen credentials supplied by the counterfeiter, the cost is $50 — a tenfold increase. This is a clear indicator that stolen credentials are a key enabler of check fraud.

Check data fields include personal information (name, address and phone) and financial information (bank account, routing code and check number). To obtain all the required data, fraudsters typically need to get their hands on a physical or scanned version of a real check in circulation. Many banking websites provide access to scanned versions of paid and received checks. Online banking login credentials obtained through malware and phishing attacks can be used by fraudsters to access a victim’s account and collect all the required information to commit check fraud. In addition, before using the checks, fraudsters could potentially ensure the account balance is sufficient to approve the transaction.

The criminal recommends using the checks to buy products in retail stores rather than trying to redeem them for cash. Buyers are also encouraged to carry fake identification cards that match the stolen credentials on the check; the check counterfeiter offers to provide these, as well.

The Evolving World of Fraud

This is the latest example of how criminals can use malware and phishing techniques to make traditional physical fraud schemes more effective. This cross-channel approach is helping fraudsters stay one step ahead of even the most sophisticated fraud detection systems deployed online and in the brick-and-mortar world. It is also creating a new generation of Frank Abagnales who are not even required to invent their own fraud scams.

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