Criminal hacking at the grass roots level

Book Excerpt The cost of doing business
Chapter 8
Pages 95-98
Zero Day Threat: The Shocking Truth of How Banks and Credit Bureaus Help Cyber Crooks Steal Your Money and Identity

ISBN- 13: 978-1-4027-5695-5

socrates_cropMarch 2005, Edmonton

In the year and a half Yolanda and Jacques were a couple, they had lived in three different places. The apartment they currently occupied, a two-bedroom, third-floor walk-up in the middle-class Mill Woods neighborhood south of the city, was by far the nicest.

Yolanda, twenty-three, was a functioning addict. Her drug of choice: crystal meth. Yolanda held down a decent job as a clerk for a courier company and earned enough to afford a car-she drove a white 1995 Chevy Cavalier-and cover rent and living expenses. Her apartment complex was done in a Hansel and Gretel motif with black trim and faux white stone walls. The rooms were compact. The living room opened via sliding glass door onto a small deck overlooking the street with a territorial view to the northeast of an expansive, undeveloped tract of land.

Prior to moving to Mill Woods, Yolanda and Jacques, twenty-four, a crack cocaine dealer, had lived in an apartment in the run-down Stadium neighborhood near the provincial courthouse, and before that they had lived for three months with Jacques’s father, a crack addict. It wasn’t very long into their relationship before Jacques hit Yolanda for the first time. Jacques had grown up watching his father strike his mother countless times. If his mother cried, the beatings would intensify. Jacques vividly remembered the beating his father administered that culminated with an ambulance rushing his mother to the hospital and cops hauling his father to jail. He was eight years old at the time.

Though Yolanda lived in constant fear, that didn’t stop her from mouthing off to Jacques-or making excuses to others for how he treated her. She spoke often to acquaintances about “Jacques’s psychosis” and “Jacques’s post traumatic stress syndrome.” Yolanda realized she, herself, probably needed mental health therapy. “I cried all the time, which induced Jacques’s psychosis, which made him beat me more,” she says. Yet, Yolanda stuck by Jacques, even after the couple was evicted from the Stadium apartment because Jacques, in a jealous rage, broke the front window and smashed all the closet doors.

In December 2004, Jacques was doing jail time, sharing a cell with another prisoner in the overcrowded Edmonton Remand Centre. A third prisoner was soon assigned to sleep on a floor mattress in their two-bunk lock-up. It was Socrates, fresh from his arrest at the Beverly. Through his connections in the drug-trafficking community, Jacques knew a little about Socrates. He knew, for instance, that Socrates owed another drug dealer some money, so he took it upon himself to step forward as a self-appointed collections agent.

“He says, ‘I’ll light you on fire if you don’t pay me,'” Socrates recalls. “I was, like, ‘OK.’ I was scared of him. But I was scared of most people, back then. That’s what meth does to you.”
Jacques backed off after he learned from another inmate that his new cell mate possessed the skills to scam-order new PCs. Jacques got Socrates to agree to supply him with a new laptop computer. After about a week in jail, Socrates was released. He reconnected with Biggie and slipped back into meth use and financial scams. When he skipped out on a scheduled court appearance, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Socrates returned to the pattern of flitting among different sketch pads, including a brief stay with Jacques and Yolanda at Yolanda’s Mill Woods walk-up. In early 2005, he began building a reputation for himself in #cchouse, #carderz, and #carder-the IRC chat rooms where he befriended the Oklahoman who gave him the phished PayPal log-ins. Partnering with Biggie, Socrates began offering access to Edmonton drop accounts as a service to fraudsters, like the Oklahoman, who needed a way to extract cash from hijacked online accounts they controlled. The idea was to have the outsiders transfer funds into Edmonton drop accounts. Biggie would orchestrate the withdrawals. If the hijacker transferred, say, $2,000 into an Edmonton drop account, Biggie would make a withdrawal happen, then send $500 via Western Union wire to the source. After paying off the drop-account mule, Biggie would split $1,200 with Socrates.

Socrates was happy to leave such details to Biggie and stay immersed online. He caught a fascination with trying to crack the Web sites of medium-sized companies selling products or services on the Internet. He knew from chat room chatter that such companies often had weak Web security and that many linked their customer databases to their public-facing Web pages. He began hacking URL addresses-the http//:www.etc. line that appears in the top window of a Web browser and loads up the Web page. He struck it rich when he was able to break in to the customer data base of a Michigan retailer that sold work uniforms online. He was able to copy the company’s customer list with names, addresses, credit card numbers, and purchase histories for its 3,000 online customers.

Socrates’s stature as a brilliant techie hacker and scammer soon began to eclipse Frankie’s in local circles, which wasn’t necessarily a good thing. One day, two drug dealers showed up at the sketch pad where Socrates was holed up, muscled him into the trunk of their car, hauled him to another sketch pad, sat him down in front of a computer, and ordered him to get online and make them some money. When one of the drug dealers left to get some food and the other went to the bathroom, Socrates took off like a scared rabbit.

Not long after that, Hula Girl, the gutsy fake ID specialist, whom Socrates had long admired, began flirting with him and invited him to move in to her west end apartment, a few blocks from the gigantic Edmonton Mall. Socrates was making enough money to keep himself and his friends continually high and buy components to build his dream PC, which he began doing.

“He says she was his girlfriend, but she said she never really was,” says Detective Vonkeman. “She basically used him to whatever extent because she saw his talent and fully exploited that.”

Socrates gave Hula Girl a copy of everything he had, including the 3,000 profiles from the Michigan uniform company whose Web site he had hacked. Alone in Hula Girl’s apartment one day, he answered a knock at the door. In burst two assailants, one with a shotgun. Socrates would later say what happened to him next had no rhyme or reason. But his acquaintances passed along the story that another of Hula Girl’s beaus, a drug dealer, got jealous about Socrates moving into her apartment, and hired goons to put the fear of God in him.

“They smashed me with the back end of the shotgun five or six times in the head. Knocked me out. There was blood everywhere. On the ceiling of the apartment. And then they put zip ties around my hands and feet. Put me in the closet. Threw a bunch of blankets and stuff on me.

“I had to crawl out of the closet, doing this little worm-wiggle thing, all the way to the front door. Had to drag a chair across the kitchen with my teeth and prop myself up on the chair and unlock the door with my mouth. I went out into the hallway to the neighbor’s house and knocked on the door with my head, and he came to the door and he was, like, ‘What happened to you! What’s going on?’

“He’s, like, ‘In my thirty-two years of being alive, this is the scariest thing I’ve seen. Why don’t you call the cops?’ I was, like, ‘I can’t.’ I didn’t tell him it was because there was a warrant out for my arrest.”

Instead, Socrates made a phone call to Biggie, who whisked him across the city to Yolanda’s Mill Woods walk-up in the south end. With them went the powerful new dream PC Socrates had just finished assembling.

Photo: Socrates at the Beverly Motel, Edmonton

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail this to someone