The first part in a 3 parts series – the other parts are available here: #VeteranDarkMarketDweller (after publishing)
“I was in college, it was 2001, and I needed a fake ID which wasn’t a piece of shit from New Jersey which I made at home with an overpriced laminate pouch.” This is the response I get from the man in a polo shirt and sweater combination which one would expect to see on a trust fund kid, sitting across from me at a restaurant table over a seafood lunch when I ask him how it was he came to take the first steps towards running a small crime empire before he hit his mid 20s.
Most definitely not a trust fund kid, “Deon Twocock”, not his real name, is in his 30s and married with children these days, and is someone the author has known via other various means for a number of years; outwardly respectable despite a handful of court appearances, (despite which, he’s never spent a day in jail or prison) all flowing from activity which was not directly related to what he did get up to on dark markets.
He got his start in his present vocation while a college student. 10 years ago, he was an active member of the internet cybercrime board ‘Shadowcrew’, where he picked up the skills needed to engage in instore carding, and spent a number of years sitting atop a mid tier organization which carded and resold goods via various means. Today, we’re going to talk about the pioneering days of what was then referred to as a ‘cybermob’, the precursor to today’s TOR enabled retail operations, how he did business on and offline, and what he thinks of the darkmarket world today. We’ll pick up the interview after his response to that first question.
Humble Beginnings, Counterfeit Library and the finer points of making a fake id.
AH: Whilst I know what you mean by that considering our respective ages, for those playing at home who may be a little younger, could you explain a little more?
DT: Sure. The New Jersey DL of the late 90s early 2000s was a laminated Polaroid system card using an interference gold ‘fake hologram’. Instead of a dancing collection of different colored images, you got something shiny, with a single color, which was either there or not there. One enterprising vendor, connected intimately to a guy who called himself Sheldon Charett [sidebar: author of ‘Secrets of a Back Alley ID Man’, a book now very much out of date but available still on Amazon to this day], put together a Word document template for the NJ DL and offered it free off of a particular website, and you could then buy the laminate pouch with the interference hologram for about $40, but because it was known as the most easily faked ID of the time, these attracted extra special scrutiny from bouncers coast to coast. Ohio had absolutely no security features at all, and I knew people who actually were over 21 with legit Ohio IDs who got turned away from bars.
AH: So you needed a better solution?
DT: Damn straight. If you were prepared to go further into the AltaVista results of searching Fake ID, you’d find Counterfeit Library. The Counterfeit Library website gave you access to guys who could make much, much better IDs, even though it wasn’t the retail shopfront sort of set up you could use to get the fixings of an NJ ID.
AH: What was the variety like at the time when it came to selecting a fake ID?
DT: Kids don’t realize how good they’ve got it these days. A guy in China can make you a hologram, a vendor prints a template he bought to a PVC card and sticks the hologram on it, there’s no art in it. Back then, a true multi spec hologram was a fuckin’ pie in the sky dream unless you actually had access to somebody at the DMV, so the states which used the ‘interference’ style hologram got targeted. I researched hard about which vendor used which method to get the best results. There was a highly specialized printer known as a Fargo which could print something close to the Cali holos, or they could be done with a stenciling product which was photosensitive so it could be done at home. Later, there was a site called IDL-Source.net which made a variety of IDs for other countries, but they weren’t much good as far as my plans went.
AH: It seems you did a whole bunch of research, why didn’t you just do it all yourself?
DT: Basically, if I had wanted to do it all myself, I could have, but the layered ID templates and the artistic side of things with the holograms were too much work for me to try and perfect, and trying to keep the stuff you use to make the holograms with, in your dorm, without making a mess, would be a challenge. The DMV mass produces these things, and as one vendor later said to me, ‘I don’t just press a button, each one of these is a miniature work of art’. That perplex shit you use to emulate an interference hologram gets absolutely everywhere. So I researched and researched, and decided I needed to find someone good with Cali drivers license, because it was in high demand on these boards meaning more competition in the design quality stakes, and some guys even went so far as doing the multi color UV. The other factor was, because of the production materials used, it was also able to mass produced by an at home maker.
AH: If you’d settled on Cali, how did you make your selection of partner?
DT: Most guys making IDs were based in the US, and there was one shipping from England who I think was called “Firewire”, but I didn’t want to try to beat the border patrol. Kids these days take that risk pretty regularly and get away with it, so maybe I was just overly cautious. Anyway, I talked to a number of guys via the private messaging system who showed they knew their shit in their posts, and who sounded like they would be a solid proposition for a long term partnership. I wanted someone who wanted a long term, single customer, so that things would get done right, and errors could be handled professionally. In return, he only ever had to take the risk of dealing with me. I also wanted to work out an arrangement to pay face to face after the work was done on credit – keep in mind, inbuilt ‘escrow’ didn’t exist back in these days. So I got my first ID from this guy after meeting him at a truck stop a few hours drive away. He was a year or two older than me and also in college. I showed the ID to my friends, and they all wanted one, so I started to get a real easy sideline going as a reseller of IDs at college, and then I expanded to CL and Shadow Crew.
Being a vendor, the migration to Shadowcrew, and the rationale of the site
AH: You became a vendor?
DT: I did. I’m pretty sure I made contact with “Gollumfun” for my review. He later became a secret service asset, but at the time, I believe he was still legit. He asked me to make him an ID with Mickey Mouse’s details on it, and so I had my guy do it. Into the mail it went, and a few days later, the review was given. I was ‘legit’ and able to sell.
AH: To be clear… Selling someone else’s Cali IDs? You’re making what I assume is a solid margin… you just handled marketing and sales to make that money, right?
DT: The rate I was paying was very low, as I handled exception volume. I guess you could say that, sure. I also handled the taking of payments. But nobody ever knew that. I knew what I was talking about and could answer any and every question I was asked by anyone. I had made a map of WU locations within a couple hours drive where there was either no cameras or a shitty looking camera, and was run by some old dude who wouldn’t give me shit for not having ID, and got paid in Western Union. It was a nice way to supplement my income and involved very little actual work.
AH: Who was your supplier?
DT: He wouldn’t appreciate me naming him, seeing as his handle back then is one he uses on quite a few other websites even today, nobody has tied that name to him making fake ids, and we’ve been known to play golf together from time to time these days.
AH: Using a name on a site like that and using it elsewhere doesn’t seem like great OPSEC…
DT: We were kids at the time, dude, and OPSEC wasn’t really high on the to do list.
AH: OK, your buddy anonymous buddy aside, will you talk about other members of the boards then?
DT: Of course. Its easier to talk about what was going on over at Shadow Crew because anyone busted out of that is already public knowledge. Here are some of the names of people I did business with or remember really well… “Macgyver” was a name which you could see on the SC forums on a day to day basis. He was part of the migration from the old Counterfeit Library. I don’t recall him vending, but he was more an information source and someone who really knew his shit about a whole bunch of stuff, whether it was how to open a bank account in another country without showing up or how to get birth certificates or tax IDs for other countries. I was able to learn a whole lot from him, he was like the all knowing elder statesman of that whole crew. His real name, as we’ve now all learnt, is Kim Taylor, and he went on the run after being busted with a guy named David Thomas who was known as “El Mariarchi”, who set up a new site called The Grifters and was a professional snitch for the FBI. He even wrote a book about it. “Mubin” who was a dude based in India, he had a professional driver so he was doing alright. He could get someone with ID in any name you want to sit the Microsoft expert exams for you, so you’d get a legit certification in your name, or the name of your backup identity. Back then, the certificate was enough, nobody was going to chase where you sat the test and ask what took you to India. I bought from him, but I definitely wouldn’t include that certificate on a job application these days.
AH: What caused that migration from Counterfeit Library to Shadow Crew?
DT: The way the game was going that it changed from being learning and fake IDs and second identities to bare naked capitalism. You were on CL to learn how shit worked, you were on SC to do actually do shit. CL kind of evolved out of those hacking and phreaking zines into something more concrete with a specific focus. The guys who had been on CL and were seeing plenty of talk and no action decided that they could do it better, so they set up SC.
AH: Was Shadow Crew better organized as an e-commerce platform then?
DT: SC was a venture designed to make people money, no question, but not directly providing a profit to the guys who built and ran the site. Moderators certainly weren’t paid for their time, it was a mark of respect alone. The structure of the forum was geared towards commerce, sure, but there was no way of integrating a payment gateway like you can in the TOR based markets of today. The board itself didn’t get a cut of the transactions carried out, I honestly believe it was a way for the guys who ran the board and were part of the management to bring more business partners and clients rather than a plan to directly generate profit.
AH: What was the actual structure of the board itself like?
DT: There was a lot going on. You had the main boards, which had tutorials, and reviews, and a lounge where people could shoot the shit, boards discussing getting fake college transcripts, a board specifically dedicated to fake ID, another all about bank accounts and e-currency like e-gold. There was a drug sub board too, but that didn’t appear until very late in SC’s life. Reviewing was done by a senior member, so basically, a proposed vendor had to give up a sample of goods for free, whatever they may’ve been, and let this ‘trusted’ senior member review whatever it was you were selling. It was all very much out in the open. There was a forum dedicated to IRL things like burglary, there was a forum listing those who had ripped other users off. There were sub boards for everyone, one for Canadians, one for the Brits and one for the Australians. As Russian membership grew when things became more about carding, there were Russian language specific forums.
AH: Who was in charge of what back then?
DT: The main boards were being run by guys like “Deck” and “Cumbajohnny”, who ended up being a mega snitch bitch. I remember the British scene was by invite only, but it was dominated by “RaptorSC” and “Fargo” until they got arrested, and that only happened because a guy named “Brynster”, I think his real name was Brydon, who had been close with those guys, turned rat on them. Story was that Raptor had been sending him money to his commissary account last time he was in the can, so I don’t know why that happened. Raptor and Fargo were a pair of bad-asses in real life by all accounts, you can find information on them both online. I can’t speak Russian so I can’t say much for those guys, but they were all business, no shooting the shit type guys. The Australians and NZers were all a bunch of prepubescent carder kiddies.
AH: Was there an emphasis on carding?
DT: I’d call it more an undercurrent than an emphasis in the early days, but that changed pretty quick.
Instore Credit card fraud for dummies
AH: If you could point to one particular story which got you interested in carding, what would it have been?
DT: I do remember there was one prolific instore carder on CL named “johnny5”, I can vividly remember reading his really funny stories about going for a trip to do some instore carding, filling his car with shit, going home, reencoding his card and doing it all again every day, but he disappeared and was never heard from again, so considering he didn’t owe anyone money and wasn’t accused of ripping, he may’ve gotten arrested or killed. His stories certainly sparked my interest, I thought “is it really that easy?”
AH: Carding has been made to sound like it was the be all and end all of SC when you look at the indictments against “cumbajohnny” and others, would you say there’s truth in that
DT: Cumbajohnny was a fucking rat, and I don’t particularly feel the need to talk on that point further. But if you were to look at what made who big money, the biggest revenue generators on SC would have been carding, no question. There was the carding guys like “Indicted” who had a card printer and embosser set up, and could sell you plastic for your carding operations. Around that time is where it kinda turned from a sideline hobby for me into a completely different animal. Apparently, after he did a fuckin’ huge amount of business, Indicted got greedy, teamed up with another dude and tried running cards for big cash advances in Vegas and got caught big time.
AH: So what exactly caused you to take the plunge into carding?
DT: There ain’t enough money in IDs to get rich, and the way things changed after 9/11, people were being threatened with felonies and terrorism charges for fake IDs, as far as we knew as guys in our late teens and early 20s. We weren’t lawyers but that’s what we kept hearing. We may’ve been young and dumb but that kinda risk to reward deal didn’t make sense. The focus started to kick to instore carding as a way of making money when the Russian dudes showed up. I was never down with the whole ‘carding shit to a vacant lot’ thing as it seemed a whole lot like all those old school 80s stuff you could find over at TOTSE, and that style of learning how to do things was way too counter culture for me. But in store, learning about it all on SC, that was a whole other thing.
AH: The lure of easy money, then? Was it really that easy?
DT: Instant cash money, buy shit, sell shit, no sneaking around. People wrote guides, and it was just so damn easy. When the options for buying ready to sign and abuse plastic died, you could do this yourself and keep it all in a briefcase and get your consumables locally or SC.
AH: Where did you get your equipment and… your… ‘consumables’?
DT: I got an AMC 712 (mag stripe encoder), and a cracked copy of Rencode from someone on IRC. Then you got your plastic, and you encoded a ‘dump’, which was track one and two of a real card’s data, and provided your signature and ID matched what was on the card, bam, free products all day every day. I think I bought the encoder on eBay, they weren’t being watched at that time. Plastic was available for sale on SC or other guys working with me used connections with townies earning almost nothing at the bars around campus to hit up their lost and found every night for wallets. The deal was simple – “Check the purse or wallet, keep the cash, bring me the Visas and Mastercards, and I’ll give you $25 for each, then throw it back in the box”. Hit the back with alcohol based, non anti-sweat deodorant. I think Raptor himself told me that one via a Private Message, and if the signature had been done with a ballpoint, it would dissolve off the old style signature strip panels without leaving a mess and you could sign it again. The dumps which were re-encoded came from Russian sellers I met via SC, that was my side of the operation, and they got paid by Western Union.
AH: This all sounds like it was business, business, business. Did you feel like part of a community?
DT: It felt very much like a community at the time, yeah, for sure, because we all came across from Counterfeit Library, which simply wasn’t a place which was geared towards making money. It was a creep in terms of the mindset which we were all part of moving from sharing information to being part of a larger commercially motivated venture. It didn’t feel like that forever, though.
AH: When did the feel of things change?
DT: When the Russian sellers showed up, definitely when they became part of the scene in a permanent way.
The first part in a 3 parts series – the other parts are available here: #VeteranDarkMarketDweller (after publishing)