Three years undercover with the identity thieves

Keith Mularski talks about his role as administrator of online fraud site DarkMarket.

The first big one to go was Markus Kellerer, a.k.a. Matrix001. German authorities picked him up with five other scammers in May 2007. A few months later Mularski's patron, JiLsi, was arrested in the U.K., one of the first targets of a newly created U.K. organization called the Serious Organized Crime Agency.

By September last year the operation had pretty much run its course. FBI approval for Operation DarkMarket was set to expire on Oct. 5, and Turkish authorities had finally rounded up Cha0, (real name Cagatay Evyapan), considered one of the FBI's top targets. An electrical engineer who manufactured ATM and point-of-sale skimming devices that could be hooked up to legitimate machines to steal information, Evyapan considered himself a "very traditional, organized criminal," not just a computer hacker, Mularski said.

He showed his nasty side when an associate named Kier (news reports have named him as Mert Ortac) spoke with Turkish media in early 2008, angering Evyapan. "He kidnapped him and tortured him and posted a picture of Kier in his underwear that's now famous," Mularski said.

The sign read, among other things, "I am rat. I am pig. I am reporter. I am ****ed by Cha0."

With Evyapan gone, "We had taken out all the administrators of DarkMarket, and that pretty much left me at the top," Mularski said.

Still, he remained in character for a few weeks longer. In September he posted a note saying he was closing the site, in part because of police infiltration. "It obvious [sic] that the Special Services and Security f***s are still here lurking in our ranks. They continue to gather evidence on us. They read our posts, they talk with our vendors, they look to see who are the active members of the forum," he wrote, according to a posting published on Wired.com.

But Mularski always knew that with all the international arrests being made there was a chance, through error or differences in judicial processes, that his name would be made public. And that's ultimately what happened. A German reporter, Kai Laufen, working on a story about cybercrime, discovered Mularski's name in court documents relating to the Kellerer case. On Oct. 13 Wired reported the story and everybody knew.

Still, some of Mularski's carder buddies refused to believe the reports. "These guys trusted me so much that even after the Wired article came out exposing me, for two days afterwards people were reaching out to me on ICQ thinking that it was a hoax and making sure I was alright."

Most were silent, however, after Mularski wrote them back saying that he was indeed an FBI agent.

One hacker who called himself Theunknown swore at Mularski, "You piece of crap fed... you're never going to catch me."

"Why don't you turn yourself in. It beats living the rest of your life on the run," Mularski wrote back. A week later, Theunknown followed his advice.

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Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
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