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Stolen Credit Cards Used Extensively by Terrorists

31-Mar-2009

Report to Congress by Andrew R. Chochran

Congressional hearings held March 31, 2009 revealed that credit card fraud is financing worldwide terrorism at a much higher level than was previously thought. In a written report to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology, Andrew R. Cochran of the Counterterrorism Blog (www.counterterrorismblog.org) provided evidence that stolen credit card data was used to finance such terrorist operations as the 2004 Madrid train bombings which killed over 200 people.

"Credit cards are extremely vulnerable to fraud and are used extensively by terrorists," says Cochran. "In many instances, when terrorist operatives are apprehended, they have multiple identifications and credit cards in a variety of names in their possession."

According to Cochran's report, Imam Samudra, a key operative of the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group Jamaah Islamiah in Indonesia and the mastermind of the Bali nightclub bombings in 2002 which killed hundreds of people, issued a jailhouse manifesto urging followers to "make holy war" into cyberspace by hacking into U.S. computer systems. By doing so, they could help fund terrorist operations through credit card fraud and money laundering. Most companies involved in ecommerce are painfully aware of Indonesia's dubious distinction as one of the riskiest countries in the world for online transactions.

In the report, Cochran provides a snapshot of the extent to which terrorists are committing credit card theft and fraud, including:

  • Stolen credit card numbers and identities were used to buy web hosting services to register websites across the globe.
  • Thousands of stolen cards and personal identities, including account holder's addresses, date of birth, credit balances and limits, etc. were stored on terrorist's computers.
  • Stolen cards were used to purchase needed field operations equipment such as prepaid cell phones and airline tickets.
  • Money was laundered through online gambling sites.
  • Tamil Tigers use credit card fraud as an international means of financing their terrorist operations. By using skimming devices attached to gasoline pumps in the U.K., the group was able to harvest card numbers. Losses are estimated at over $72 million.

The report can be accessed directly at the House Committee website at http://hsc.house.gov/SiteDocuments/20090331142105-01092.pdf