Online cops showcase worst of the Web

The art of the online swindle is now on (limited) display at The Fraud Museum.

Ad Cops, a consortium that fights e-commerce scams on behalf of its business members, recently opened what it says is the Web's only fraud museum. The showcase for cyber snookering currently includes 13 exhibits. The site plans to add more as they become available.

Current exhibits at the restricted-access site offer a representative sample of cyber-scams. On display is an official-looking e-mail from AOL designed to illegally obtain members' passwords (and hence, their credit-card information). There's a software utility that generates fake credit-card numbers. And the site even features a bogus Microsoft Network "prize claim" page that filches passwords.

One of the museum's most eye-popping entries is a how-to on committing credit-card fraud. The primer on purloining is so detailed, even Martha Stewart would be impressed. Among other things, it explains how to use stolen numbers to order products and have them delivered to a fake address using back doors, mowed lawns and unsuspecting mail carriers. The how-to is also chock-full of surprising data. Did you know that for about a thousand bucks, you can buy the necessary equipment to make your own credit cards?

Educating for Deterrence

The museum's purpose is to keep Ad Cops members (such as online merchants and banks) up to date on the latest scams, explains Daniel Clements, president of Ad Cops. Spotlighting the larcenous e-mail messages, misleading Web pages, and hacker programs used by criminals helps merchants protect themselves, he adds.

A virtual stroll through the informative Fraud Museum, however, raises a disturbing question: What's to stop a would-be thief from getting ideas from this site? Clements says the US$99 membership fee required to gain entrance to the museum is a likely deterrent.

Besides, he adds: "This stuff is already floating around on the Internet anyway," and savvy thieves know where and how to find it.

The publicly accessible portions of the Ad Cops site offers less graphic but still scary tidbits such as a Most Wanted list with a description of crimes, and FAQ that describe the types and volume of fraud online. There's even a section for anonymous tips.

The material on display in the Fraud Museum comes from the defrauders themselves. As the former manager of an online ad firm, Clements tangled with hackers who created software capable of manufacturing phantom clicks on banner ads.

"When we caught these guys, we asked them to show us how they did it," he says. And the Fraud Museum was born.

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