Counterfeit items were never exclusive to the darknet. The US began redesigning bills to fight counterfeit $100 bills as early as 1996. The darknet, however, brought a new era of counterfeit goods, services, and currency to the market. Items otherwise unobtainable to the average customer became relatively easy to find and buy. Right now, along with fake euro notes, counterfeiters are flooding the UK with fake supermarket savings.
According to WBNews, groups of fraudsters distribute thousands of counterfeit supermarket vouchers on a daily basis. Tesco, Morrisons, and the Co-op reported a significant influx of fakes that were nearly indistinguishable from the real stamps or vouchers. The Daily Star spoke with an ex-fraudster—Tony Sales—about the stamps and he agreed; “The fakes look even more authentic than the real ones.”
Sales explained that the counterfeit variants were almost identical in every foreseeable aspect. Manufacturers used real watermarks and holograms to create the stamps or vouchers. They dyed and punched the fakes with the latest printing technology. The fakes already in circulation had real barcodes and serial numbers. Sales said that he believes the so-called factories are using store algorithms to generate legitimate barcodes. As the Christmas season approaches, supermarkets do not expect the trend to end.
One darknet marketplace listing explained the process involved in using the fakes. “Go to any store listed and ask for a saver stamp book,” the vendor began. He told customers that after receiving a saver stamp book, they needed to purchase his listing and fill the stamp book with them. That vendor’s listing for Tesco stamps explained that—for the nervous—forms of ID were not required. The store, Tesco in this scenario, never implemented bar-codes. “This is not for everyone. You must have confidence. For people who deal in store-carding or use counterfeit notes, this will be nothing new,” he concluded.
Fraud groups distribute the vouchers and stamps to “big buyers” and darknet distributors. These groups control the counterfeit circulation, and in doing so, they regulate the supply and demand. Darknet distributors set their prices, but the original manufacturing teams make the ultimate decisions. In bulk, the counterfeits sell for $1,200 for 10,000, $12,728 for 50,000, $63640 for 100,000 and $127,280 for 500,000.
Tony Sales, an ex-fraudster who earned millions in credit cards scams, spoke to reporters about the stamps. Sales now owns a fraud prevention company that operates from southeast London. Whether or not his firm is collaborating with supermarkets was not made clear by reporters. He did, however, provide some insight on the topic. “And the problem for the supermarkets is that they [counterfeits] work,” he said, adding “This is a sophisticated scam using expensive printing gear that will be costing supermarkets dearly.”
He claimed that he warned supermarkets, years ago, that voucher booklets were fraud gang’s next target. The gangs would be able to steal serial numbers from the store algorithm. “Now we see it in practice,” he added. Sales said that darknet vendors communicated with fraud gangs via encrypted chat. Law enforcement has trouble tracking the vendors, especially when they scramble their communications. “They can sell as many as they want with a very low risk of being caught.”
Both the supermarkets hit with the fraudulent stamps and Sales believe that the wave will continue for the duration of the holiday season.