Cybercriminals Abuse Donation Sites for Card Testing

From the what-will-they-think-of-next department.

Researchers at have an interesting report out this morning about how criminals use donation sites to see if stolen card numbers are working.

As a past victim of stolen card numbers, I am used to seeing fraudsters make small charges on the card just to see if it’s working. But I never really considered other ways to test, and one of them was a bit of an eye-opener to me.

According to Gemini Advisory, one method involves linking a card to an account on an e-commerce, social media, or other site. To link the card, the fraudster conducts a “transaction” for $0.00 that does not appear on the customer’s statement. The card is only linked—or “authorized”—if it is an active card. If the authorization is successful, fraudsters consider the card to be valid. I have to admit that I am impressed that someone figured out that checking technique, but that method may not work well because financial institutions now monitor for such testing activity and may flag the card number if they spot that type of attempt.

So demonstrating the rapid ability to adjust by coming up with yet another method, fraudsters also started using donation sites to check whether a card number was still working and usable. In this approach, the fraudster makes a small donation using the card, and if it goes through, the card number is usable. Small donations to not-for profits are less likely to around suspicion, and researchers found that a number of fraudsters were using the Red Cross site for that purpose. But other charities and sites have also been used for this purpose — including GoFundMe and Make-A-Wish.  In their report, Gemini Advisory provides a list of sites that have been used (or misused) this way.

So what are sites to do to protect themselves from winding up with chargebacks or other problems? Gemini Advisory writes:

The e-commerce site belonging to the merchant or charity can implement 3DS 2.0 on its online payment portal as extra verification, as well as other standard best practices.

But individual cardholders also need to be vigilant about monitoring activity on their card, and financial institutions also need to develop their ability to detect unusual activity related to charitable donations.

You can read the full report for more details at

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