Even though banks and other financial institutions do a lot to protect their customers from payment card fraud, criminals still find their way into victims’ wallets.

New research by NordVPN analysed 6-million stolen payment cards found on the dark web. Two in three cards came bundled with at least some private information, such as an address, phone number, email address, or even social security number (SSN).

As many as 46 737 (0,9%) of the analysed payment cards belonged to South Africans, making South Africa the 12th most affected country globally.

Researchers also estimated that the average price of South African cards on the dark web is R74.46 (global average – R128.56).

South African payment cards are prone to fraud: according to NordVPN’s card fraud risk index, on a scale from 0 to 1, South Africa’s payment card fraud risk index is 0.65.

“The cards researchers found are just the tip of the iceberg. The information sold alongside these cards makes it much more dangerous,” says Adrianus Warmenhoven, a cybersecurity advisor at NordVPN.

“In the past, experts linked payment card fraud to brute-forcing attacks — when a criminal tries to guess a payment card number and CVV to use their victim’s card. However, most of the cards we found during our research were sold alongside the email and home addresses of their victims, which are impossible to brute force. We can therefore conclude that they were stolen using more sophisticated methods, such as phishing and malware.”

Identity theft through payment card fraud

By selling the database analysed in the research, cybercriminals could earn more than R340-million in total. If purchased, these payment card details could net criminals much more than they originally paid for them.

Ten thousand payment cards for sale included their South African owners’ home address, 5 000 included telephone number, 7 000 cards included email addresses, and around 300 cards included their owners’ date of birth.

If a data breach or hack exposes users’ card details as well as their addresses and other personal information, it can lead to identity theft. Once the attacker has obtained the victim’s name, home address, and email address, they may even abuse legal methods (such as using the GDPR’s right to access for more personal information) in furthering the identity theft scheme or committing other malicious activities.

SA in 25th place

Based on their findings, NordVPN researchers have calculated the risks posed by credit card theft and related cyberattacks to residents in 98 countries. Malta, Australia, and New Zealand came at the top of the risk index, and South Africa came in 25th place.

On the other end of the spectrum, Russia had the lowest risk score, and China was third from last. These findings seem to confirm prevailing hypotheses regarding the location of large-scale hacking operations and the purposeful targeting of Anglo-European countries.

More than half of stolen cards issued in the US

More than half of the 6-million stolen credit card records analyzed came from the US, most likely due to its high rates of card penetration, sizable population, and strong economy. However, stolen US cards commanded a comparatively low price (R125.80 as opposed to the R128.56 global average) on dark web marketplaces — the most valued cards (at R211.64 on average) were from Denmark.

How to protect yourself from payment card fraud

“Few criminals now use brute force to steal payment card information. This means that techniques are becoming more sophisticated. However, this also means that informed users have less chance of being affected,” says Warmenhoven.