A sophisticated scam-as-a-service operation dubbed Classiscam has now infiltrated into Singapore, more than 1.5 years after expanding to Europe.
“Scammers posing as legitimate buyers approach sellers with the request to purchase goods from their listings and the ultimate aim of stealing payment data,” Group-IB said in a report shared with The Hacker News.
The cybersecurity firm called the operators a “well-coordinated and technologically advanced scammer criminal network.”
Classiscam refers to a Russia-based cybercrime operation that was first recorded in summer 2019 but only came under spotlight a year later coinciding with a surge in activity owing to an increase in online shopping in the aftermath of COVID-19 outbreak.
Called the most widely used fraud scheme during the pandemic, Classiscam targets people who use marketplaces and services relating to property rentals, hotel bookings, online bank transfers, online retail, ride-sharing, and package deliveries.
Initial targets included users of popular Russian classifieds and marketplaces, before migrating to Europe and the U.S. There are believed to be over 90 active groups using Classiscam’s services to target users in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, the U.S. and Uzbekistan.
The fraudulent operation spans acrosss 64 countries in Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the Middle East, with 169 brands used to carry out the attacks. From April 2020 to February 2022, criminals leveraging Classiscam are said to have made at least $29.5 million in illicit profits.
What’s notable about this campaign is its heavy reliance on Telegram bots and chats to coordinate operations and create phishing and scam pages.
Here is the core of how it all works: The scammers post bait ads on popular marketplaces and classified websites, usually offering game consoles, laptops, and smartphones for sale at significant discounts.
When a potential victim contacts the seller (i.e., the threat actor) through the online storefront, the Classiscam operator deceives the target into continuing the chat on a third-party messaging service like WhatsApp or Viber before sending a link to a rogue payment page to complete the transaction.
The scheme involves a hierarchy of administrators, workers, and callers. While administrators are in charge of recruiting new members, automating the creation of scam pages, and registering new accounts, it’s the workers who create accounts on free classifieds websites and place the decoy ads.
Workers, who receive 70-80% of the stolen sums, are also responsible for communicating with the victims through the platform’s chat systems and sending phishing links designed to make payments for the purchased goods.
“Workers are key participants of the Classiscam scam scheme: their goal is to attract traffic to phishing resources,” the researchers said.
The phishing URLs, for their part, are generated through Telegram bots that mimic the payment pages of the local classified websites but are hosted on lookalike domains. This however necessitates that the workers send the link with the bait product to the bot.
“After initial contact with the legitimate seller, the scammers generate a unique phishing link that confuses the sellers by displaying the information about the seller’s offer and imitating the official classified’s website and URL,” the researchers said. “Scammers claim that payment has been made and lure the victim into either making a payment for delivery or collecting the payment.”
The phishing pages also include an option to check the victim’s bank account balance with the goal of identifying the most “valuable” cards.
What’s more, some cases incorporate an attempt to trick the victims a second time by calling them to request for a refund in order to receive their money back. These calls are made by assistant workers who masquerade as tech support specialists for the platform.
In this scenario, the targets are taken to a fraudulent payment page to enter their card details and confirm it by providing a password received via SMS. But instead of a refund, the same amount is debited from the victim’s card again.
While the aforementioned modus operandi is an instance of seller scam, wherein a buyer (i.e., victim) receives a phishing payment link and is defrauded of their money, there also exists buyer scams.
This entails a fraudster contacting a legitimate seller under the guise of a customer and sending a bot-generated fake payment form impersonating a marketplace allegedly for verification purposes. But once the seller enters their bank card information, an amount equivalent to the product’s cost is deducted from their account.
The entire attack infrastructure operated by Classiscammers comprises 200 domains, 18 of which were created to trick the users of an unnamed Singaporean classified website. Other sites in the network pose as Singaporean moving companies, European, Asian, and Middle Eastern classified websites, banks, marketplaces, food and crypto brands, and delivery companies.
“As it sounds, Classiscam is far more complex to tackle than the conventional types of scams,” Group-IB’s Ilia Rozhnov siad. “Unlike the conventional scams, Classiscam is fully automated and could be widely distributed. Scammers could create an inexhaustible list of links on the fly.”
“To complicate the detection and takedown, the home page of the rogue domains always redirects to the official website of a local classified platform.”