In a report, Symantec predicted that online thieves can steal more than $5 billion from the stolen credit cards and bank accounts they have acquired.
The cyber-thieves are thriving despite economy woes faced by the world. They trade stolen credit cards and bank accounts online in large numbers.
Symantec monitored online activities over the year and found that stolen credit card numbers were traded in nearly 31 per cent of all the goods offered online in underground black market. The stolen bank accounts were the next big group, traded at nearly 20 per cent of all items.
Symantec calculated the total amount to be $5.3 billion based on the average amount of fraud committed on a stolen credit card about $350 (£234).
They also calculated the total amount that can be plundered from stolen bank accounts: $1.7 billion.
These figures might differ from actual money stolen but this gives an indication how much money can be lost from such criminal enterprise.
The report found credit cards were popular because it was easy to obtain and gain access to stolen accounts.
The thieves get a hold of the credit card numbers through a variety of ways: phishing schemes, database attacks and magnetic strip methods. All of them gain easy access to credit card numbers. The thieves either print those stolen cards and sell or give away those numbers for others to print and use.
The Symantec report said:
High frequency use and the range of available methods for capturing credit card data would generate more opportunities for theft and compromise and, thus, lead to an increased supply on underground economy servers.
The cyber thieves are well organized in Russia and Eastern Europe. They pass the information via online chat channels and with invite-only discussion forums. They hire professionals and specialists to gain access to a variety of financial institutions and are able to print credit and debit cards in large numbers. In contrast, the thieves in the U.S. are loosely organized. But there is plenty of cooperation among various factions who trade the information expertly, according to Symantec.
Symantec also believes that there is organized crime involved, which may hire the thieves that trade stolen data.
The best way to fight identity theft is to check your accounts on a daily basis; either check each account individually or check it via Mint.com or Quicken.com, both of which allow daily notifications if something wrong happens in any of your accounts (bank or credit card accounts).