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Power and ego, not money, may have fueled alleged Dutch hacker

David Benjamin Schrooten, now in U.S. custody, indicated he wanted to come clean, a computer security expert said

By Jeremy Kirk
June 13, 2012 01:54 AM ET

IDG News Service - At its peak during its two-year existence, -- a website specializing in the trade of stolen credit-card numbers -- had more than 6,000 members who bought and sold pilfered data in an online bazaar dedicated to defrauding consumers.

It was governed in part by "Fortezza," the nickname of an administrator who exercised tight control over who was allowed into the secret forum given its criminal nature. "Carding" websites are the bane of banks, victimizing consumers in a fast-moving global frauds.

U.S. prosecutors say they now have custody of Fortezza, aka David Benjamin Schrooten, a 21-year-old Dutch national who was extradited on Friday from Romania. Schrooten, who was indicted on 14 counts ranging from fraud, conspiracy, intentional damage to a computer and aggravated identity theft, has pleaded not guilty.

Fortezza stuck out among other users on, said Dan Clements, a computer security expert who runs CloudeyeZ, a company that helps financial institutions and other organizations identity stolen data circulating online.

Clements had his eye on as part of his business for some time. Fortezza, he said, wrote more than 1,000 posts on the forum in proper English -- a rarity given the mangled grammar usually found on such forums.

"He was quite fluent," Clements said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

During his research, Clements was curious whether Fortezza might be a law enforcement officer, as FBI agents regularly try to gain access to such forums for investigations, posing as part of the criminal underground. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Fortezza responded to Clements via instant messenger.

Once Fortezza started chatting, "we couldn't shut him up," Clements said.

Fortezza managed with an iron fist: people who wanted to join the website had to be vetted by another user. Vendors of stolen credit-card numbers who ripped off others were banned. Experts with CloudeyeZ were occasionally kicked off, but the company always had constant access due to several valid logins, Clements said.

According to Schrooten's indictment, prosecutors allege he and other co-conspirators hacked into other carding sites -- in effect, possibly stealing already stolen data. With already doing a brisk trade in card numbers, hacking competitors' websites may have been more of an act of bravado than a criminal business necessity.

"In all of my instant messages with him, money was never his motivation," Clements said.

Curiously, while Schrooten's indictment accuses him of conspiring to "generate illicit financial proceeds" for his personal benefit, there is no estimate of how much he may have personally benefited.

But a criminal complaint filed against another 21-year-old American man, Christopher A. Schroebel, indicates how lucrative the data trade is. Schroebel, of Keedysville, Maryland, was accused of working with Schrooten, collecting stolen card numbers by installing malware on point-of-sale devices in two businesses in the Seattle area.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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