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Pins and Needles – How Credit Card Fraud Works in Latin America

BRAZIL / 15 DEC 2021 BY CHRIS DALBY EN

A recent study of credit card cloning around the world revealed some startling disparities in the risks customers face across Latin America and the price of buying this stolen information.

The global report, carried out by NordVPN, a leading virtual private network company, found that around four million credit cards had their details stolen and put up for sale on the dark web.

The United States accounted for the largest percentage of credit cards, with over 1.5 million sets of card details found. But as the report pointed out, this did not mean US customers were more at risk, as the usage of credit cards per capita varies widely around the world.

Here, InSight Crime explores the report’s findings in Latin America.

1. Brazil, Mexico and Puerto Rico Most at Risk

Each country in the report had its credit card fraud risk level placed on a scale of zero to one. Credit card users in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Brazil were found to be at the highest risk of having their details stolen and sold in Latin America. Each of these three countries scored 0.6 on the scale.

These results are not surprising. Brazil and Mexico are the two economic titans in the region, with high levels of international investment and strong e-commerce. Despite this, the usage of credit cards varies widely.

In Brazil, credit cards are almost ubiquitous, with over 80 percent of the population having one, according to government statistics from July 2021. In comparison, only 15 percent of Mexicans use credit cards and most people still pay in cash, according to the Ministry of Finance.

SEE ALSO: Murder, Drugs, God and Crypto - The Downfall of Brazil's Pharaoh of Bitcoins

And online security seemed to be more efficient in Brazil, where, despite having far more credit cards, around 220,000 card details were found by NordVPN as opposed to 350,000 in Mexico.

Puerto Rico had a higher degree of risk than the mainland United States (0.5), and has a history of credit card and financial fraud, with several federal investigations having been carried out into the practice there.

2. Most Expensive Countries to Buy Stolen Credit Cards

While Mexico and Brazil might account for the lion’s share of stolen cards in Latin America, buying the details of these cards on the web is not expensive. The average cost was just $2.36 in Mexico and $6.54 in Brazil, among the cheapest in the region.

In comparison, Paraguay was the most expensive country to buy stolen card details at $19.25, followed by Panama ($18.42), Uruguay ($18.32), Colombia ($18.29) and Chile ($18.28), according to the NordVPN investigation.

These countries fall into low- and medium-risk categories.

SEE ALSO: The Digital Gold Rush - 5 Ways Bitcoin Helps Organized Crime

Paraguay and Uruguay were classified as low-risk for having credit card information stolen. In the case of Paraguay, the high price seems to be a matter of low demand. Just seven percent of the population has credit cards and only 101 credit cards were found to have been cloned. In Uruguay, where over 35 percent of people use credit cards, relatively strong regulations overseeing credit card use and fighting fiscal fraud may have helped to keep the amount of fraud low.  

Conversely, Colombia, Chile and Panama - all medium-risk countries - have thriving credit card industries with soaring demand. In 2019, up to 12,000 new credit cards were being emitted a day in Colombia. Chile saw a large-scale move away from cash transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the use of credit cards increasing apace.

As a result, all three countries have seen steadily escalating credit card fraud, mostly using common techniques found all around the world. This has only worsened since the pandemic began, putting these countries not at particularly high risk, but in the middle of the pack.

3. Few Cards to Clone in Venezuela

With a devastated economy and limited access to international financial markets due to sanctions, it comes as little surprise that Venezuela only had some 750 credit cards cloned despite a population of 28 million people.

Even those Venezuelans who still maintain credit cards emitted by the country’s banks face astonishingly low credit limits. In October 2021, Venezuela’s central bank set a new ceiling for credit cards in the country of 1 bolívar, or just $0.24. This would allow users to buy the equivalent of one kilogram of ground beef or one kilogram of powdered milk.

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