Getting Smart with Mobile App GeoLocation to Fight Fraud

If your mobile application includes purchases with credit cards, and a pickup of the merchandise, then you should pay attention to this.

Recently, in our testing lab and during an intelligence engagement, we identified a fraud mechanism where stolen credit cards were being used via the mobile app in question, to fraudulently purchase goods. In fact, the attackers were selling the purchase of the goods as a service on auction and market sites on the dark web.

The scam works like this. The bad guys have stolen credit cards (track data, likely from dumps), which they use to make a purchase for their client remotely. The bad guys use their stolen track data as a card not present transaction, which is standard for mobile apps. The bad guys have access to huge numbers of stolen cards, so they can burn them at a substantial rate without impacting their inventory to a large extent. The bad guy’s customer spends $25 in bitcoins to get up to $100 in merchandise. The bad guy takes the order from the dark net, uses the mobile app to place the order, and then delivers the receipt and/or pickup information to the bad guys customer. The customer then walks into the retailer and shows the receipt for their mobile order, picking up the merchandise and leaving.

The bad guy gets paid via the bitcoins. For them, this is an extremely low risk way to convert stolen credit card info to cash. It is significantly less risky for them than doing physical card replication, ATM use or other conversion methods that have a requirement for physical interaction.

The bad guy’s customer gets paid by picking up the merchandise. They get up to $100 value for a cost of $25. They take on some risk, but if performed properly, the scam is low risk to them, or so they believe. In the odd event, they simply leave the store after making their demands for satisfaction. There is little risk of arrest or prosecution, it would seem, especially at the low rate of $100 – or at least that was how the bad guy was pitching it to their prospective customers…

The credit card issuer or the merchant gets stuck. They are out the merchandise and/or the money, depending on their location in the world, and the merchant agreement/charge back/PCI compliance issues they face.

Understanding the fraud and motivations of the bad guys is critical for securing the systems in play. Organizations could up their validation techniques and vigilance for mobile orders. They could add additional fraudulent transaction heuristics to their capability. They could also implement geo-location on the mobile apps as a control – i.e.. If the order is being physically placed on a device in Ukraine, and pick up is in New York, there is a higher level of risk associated with that transaction. Identifying ways  to leverage the sensors and data points from a mobile device, and rolling it into fraud detection heuristics and machine learning analytics is the next wave of security for some of these applications. We are pleased to be helping clients get there…

To hear more about modern fraud techniques, application security testing or targeted threat intelligence like what we discussed above, drop us a line (info at microsolved dot com) or via Twitter (@lbhuston). We look forward to discussing it with your team.