Man discovers he has been impersonated on Amazon by a money-launderer selling $555 "books" full of computer-generated word salad


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/02/26/literary-ambitions.html


#2

Sorry, but I am required by law at this point to say “Still a better love story than Twilight.”

Again, apologies.

#oldmemes #goldmemes


#3

Time to quibble:

This isn’t money laundering is it? If he was the one who had stolen the credit cards and he actually paid the taxes then it would be, but the person who pulled this scam off has the money in an account under a fake name and has not reported it as income. The money has not been laundered at all.


#4

So Amazon facilitated framing someone for a federal crime (tax evasion) and they won’t help the victim exonerate himself. I wonder if Amazon can be named in a civil suit. Even though lawsuits are expensive, sometimes a letter from a practicing attorney can be enough to spur a corporation to correct its mistake. After all, right now they’re doing nothing of substance to help because ignoring the crime to which they were an unwitting accessory costs them nothing. If they think it might cost them something, even if it’s a pittance to them, they might lift a corporate finger to at least give him the account number that they, after all, claimed belongs to him.


#5

It seems fucked Amazon is unwilling to help this guy because he’s unable to prove his innocence (how does one even prove they haven’t laundered money?) while criminals are free to do what they want with Amazon’s services without fear of being asked to prove who they are.

Why does Amazon even maintain these sort of services? Don’t they realize they’ve completely devalued a core aspect of their business by letting it get inundated by garbage?

When I tried Amazon Prime last year I actually thought the free Kindle books that were included might be a nice bonus but I quickly learned that it’s just where they shunt all that garbage.


#6

Er, if the criminal is pocketing 70% does that mean Amazon is pocketing 30% of the proceeds of a credit card scam? $10k in this case? Seems they’re more than just an accessory.


#7

I’m not following you. Money laundering is merely cycling illegal revenue into a legal revenue stream so you can use it normally. The scammer paid him or her self for the book, using the victim’s identity but their own bank account to deposit the payments. You can deposit revenue into any bank account for which you have the bank routing and account numbers, even if it isn’t under your own name. You’re still on the hook for paying taxes on it. The money launderer/identity thief just figured out a way to scam someone else into receiving the tax bill. But the illegal revenue has still been “cleaned” of its criminal trail. So it’s not only money laundering, if that’s what you mean, but it still that as well as identity theft.

I gather Amazon is saying they won’t help because of the theoretical possibility that there is no money launderer and that the alleged victim really is just trying to avoid paying taxes. In that respect I understand them being unwilling to tell the IRS the revenue wasn’t actually his, since they can’t actually know. But it’s no reason not to give him the routing and account numbers, since if he is the scammer he already has it, and if he isn’t then he can use it as evidence in his favor. Simply put, if he doesn’t have the information already, then he really is the victim of identity theft.

Granted it Amazon were really paranoid, they might think that he has the account information held under an assumed identity, but wants them to “give” it to him so he can present the information to the IRS with a plausible reason for having it. But that’s still no reason for Amazon not to give it to him, since the IRS would be just as capable of realizing that possibility and can take it into consideration.


#8

I’d write these books for a lot less!

Would fill out my CV! :wink:


#9

The launderer apparently has the actual author’s (real) social security number, which they used to set up the accounts. The problem is that “proving” that you are a particular person is trivially easy given what constitutes “proof” - information that’s floating around in innumerable databases, legit and illegal.
So that being the case, I can sort of see why Amazon don’t want to give him the information - he could be the scammer, trying to impersonate, er. himself, so he could get access to these other bank account details. Amazon probably has safeguards in place, ironically, that prevents their workers from giving out this information so that they can’t be socially engineered into compromising authors and other sellers.


#10

If the IRS came to audit the scammer and said, “Where did you get this $24,000?” the scammer could say, “From selling books on Amazon.” But when the next question, "Why didn’t you report it as income?’ was asked, the scammer wouldn’t have a useful answer. That’s not very “laundered” in my mind.

The scammer may be keeping the money in an account that “belongs” to the person whose identity they stole to avoid such questions, but then the scammer basically still has a “steal” the money that technically belongs to someone else (after all, according to the IRS it was that persons’ income). Money you haven’t even stolen yet also isn’t very “laundered”.


#12

Good point. This alleged crime is starting to look a little suspect. I’m thinking your quibble may be more of sign this doesn’t add up.

The only thing I can think of is that the identity thief could claim it’s a gift, which would make the person whose identity they used to launder it liable for paying the tax on it, if the claim stuck. I wonder if the “gift donor” can dispute a “gift recipient’s” claim something was a gift. But to do so the donor would have to know who the recipient is. Could this be an elaborate way to put someone on the hook for “gift” tax on a gift they never actually gave? When the alleged scammer claims the $24K was a gift, will the IRS investigate the supposed donor to see if it really is? Somehow that scam feels like it wouldn’t work, and since this one did (assuming there is really an identity thief), it feels incongruous.


#13

For me I think the scam makes sense if their plan is to simply cash out. Most scams don’t involve money laundering, they just involve getting some money and running.


#14

Yeah, but who in their right mind would pay $555 for a paperback, unless it was just paying it to themself for some other reason? Granted there are some gullible people out there, but $24K means there were over 40 of them who bought this “book” alone.


#15

You are assuming that they are competently laundering money.

Alternatively, “the seller does not deliver to the United States” so maybe there are no US taxes to report?


#16

Maybe avoiding problems with customs or US postal fraud investigators?


#17

I’m no criminal mastermind, but probably something like that. Better to at least try to stay out of US jurisdiction.


#18

I believe the point of most of these fraud things is to receive the money in an account, cash it out and purchase prepaid cards or wire the money to a foreign country.


#19

Brian Krebs also reported on this story. A commenter in that story said this:

It’s not that the darkweb is too slow, it’s that you still need to cash out at the end. Amazon lets you go from stolen funds directly to a bank account. If you’ve set it up with stolen credentials, that process may be faster than getting money out of a bitcoin exchange which tend to limit fiat withdraws to accounts created with the amount of information they managed to steal.

So I think Humbabella is right - this isn’t laundering, just criminals trying to get cash.


#20

You and @GulliverFoyle appear to be working under the assumption that there is just money being moved between two bank accounts without a clear “exit” strategy, and I think that’s what’s causing the confusion.

This is likely an intermediary step in which a compromised credit or debit card is used to make an illegitimate purchase that then creates “liquid” money on an account, as things like direct payments straight to an account are extremely suspicious and get red-flagged immediately.

The actual laundering then occurs from the destination account, which often abuses money-mule middlemen and/or abusing said middlemen to receive and re-ship (overseas) high-dollar, easily resellable items. Once those are received and sold for untraceable cash, the laundering is complete.


#21

When my apple account got hacked (a while ago, maybe 9 years), it purchased several $99 apps that were clearly horseshit. Apple refused to refund my account and also would not open an investigation into the apps either; although my memory is fuzzy at this point. Clearly this is not a new problem.