In 2016, law enforcement noticed an increase in ticket fraud in the UK. Investigators most commonly saw fraudulent train tickets but other types of tickets became a target for fraudsters. Eventually, an investigator traced the ticket fraud back to two men who used the darknet to cause millions of dollars of damage to banks and credit card companies. Andres Baravalle, a researcher at the University of East London, said the darknet became more of a threat to train ticket systems. Darknet marketplace vendors began selling fraudulent tickets at an even greater volume than before with major discounts.
A group of “public servants” purchased a first class ticket from Hastings to Manchester and a monthly ticket for the trip between the Gatwick Airport and London. They purchased the tickets on the darknet through an unnamed darknet marketplace referred to as the “dark web’s largest marketplace.” The group used the fraudulent tickets 12 times before they ceased. (They never mentioned whether train station staff caught them or, after 12 successful runs, they completed their test.)
The tickets, they said, passed as valid tickets, clearly. The magnetic strip did not work, though. Instead of shipping the fake tickets, the researchers said that they passed the tickets to train station staff who then let them in.
Mike Keeber, a rail ticket fraud investigator, examined the quality of the frauds. He agreed that, to a degree, the first check missed the tickets. However, “there’s something on there that shouldn’t be on there,” he told BBC. “I’d rather not say what it is, as people who make this [could] change it and make our lives harder.”
The group that BBC reported on issued a statement after they completed their 12-step trial run through the system. “The train companies keep stuffing their pockets with public subsidies while treating the operation of rail services as an inconvenience, the anonymous group announced “We wish one day everyone will be able to use an affordable public service. Until then, we will be providing it.”
BBC reported that the public service offered involved fraudulent tickets and the darknet. Tickets, on various marketplaces, they explained, sell for half or even less than half of the retail price. For instance, the monthly pass for Gatwick costs $389. However, on the darknet, almost real passes sell for $126.
Jeremy Banks, Detective Inspector of the BTP Cyber Crime Unit, said that the unit was “aware that criminals have been using the dark web in order to exploit rail firms by fraudulently selling tickets.” He added that “[our] Cyber Crime Unit works closely with the rail industry as well as police forces nationally.”
Officials reported that many steps are planned to combat the growing market of ticket fraud. Cybersecurity experts once feared that the darknet would bring an additional threat to train and other transportation companies. However, that threat is no longer a threat of the future; darknet marketplaces have become readily accessible by anyone with a computer. I’m turn, more people buy fraudulent tickets or similar method of bypassing the system—and more buyers means that more people will start selling. The cycle will continue, law enforcement believes, and if the fraud is not dealt with soon, it will only get worse and beyond control of the authorities.