Cyber thieves who steal credit and debit card numbers are selling your information for millions of dollars, a team of researchers has warned.
Thomas J Holt, Michigan State University criminologist and lead investigator of one of the first scientific studies to estimate cybercrime profits, said the findings should be a wake-up call for consumers and law enforcement officials.
"In the past two years, there have been hundreds of data breaches involving customer information, some very serious like the Target breach in 2013. It is a real economic phenomenon that has real economic impact and consequences," said Holt, associate professor of criminal justice.
For the results, Holt and fellow researchers analysed online forums in English and Russian where criminals sold stolen financial and personal information, often in batches of 50 or 100. On average, a batch of 50 stolen credit or debit cards can make a seller between about $250,000 and $1 million.
Although, buyers, in turn, assume more risk of getting caught but if they succeed in using the information, they could make between $2 million (if only 25 percent of the cards worked) and nearly $8 million (if all cards worked).
"If we do not understand the scope of this problem, if we just treat it as a nuisance, then we are going to enable and embolden this as a form of crime that would not stop," Holt noted in a paper published in the journal Deviant Behavior.
Ultimately, Holt said he hopes to help protect consumers from the potentially disastrous effects of identity theft and credit fraud. "My goal is make people cognizant of just how much their personal information means, how much value there is," Holt said, adding that "if we don't understand the scope of this problem, if we just treat it as a nuisance, then we're going to enable and embolden this as a form of crime that won't stop."