Are you a convicted felon who has dreams of traveling abroad? Or a cybercriminal looking to set up a legitimate bank account into which you can deposit your ill-gotten funds? Then buying a passport off the dark web is an option that you should consider!
But while in the past forged or stolen passports would fetch a hefty sum on the black market, thanks to the modern marvel that is the dark web, prices have fallen significantly. Last month, Comparitech analyzed listings on a handful of illicit marketplaces to try and determine exactly how much a passport or passport scan can fetch in the seediest corners of the Internet. Their analysts scoured marketplaces like Dream Market, Berlusconi Market, Wall Street Market and Tochka Free Market, among others.
During their search, they discovered that passport scans, which are often enough for a scammer or criminal to set up a bank account in another person's name, can be purchased for as little as $15. For slightly more, an aspiring criminal can purchase a passport and drivers license scan - which would be enough to open an account on a cryptocurrency exchange or - better yet - hack into the account of an unsuspecting trader by exploiting password recovery tools.
However, real passports still fetch a hefty sum, and even forgeries can be prohibitively expensive for some.
Here are Comparitech's key findings:
Real or forged, passport scans are typically accompanied by other forms of identification - a utility bill, selfie of the ID card owner holding up their ID or a driver’s license. But they cost significantly more than the passport scan alone - often upwards of $60. But scammers get what they pay for: Because multiple forms of ID are usually required to bypass proof-of-address and proof-of-identification controls on websites. But if a user has one, they can seize control of the account of another individual, assuming the documents are in the correct name.
The bulk of Comparitech's analysis focused on digital scans and images of real passports. The site's researchers found 48 unique listings for real passports scans, 38 of which were not sold with any accompanying proof of ID or address, spanning 20 countries. While they found no discernible pattern in pricing relative to supply or the power of the country's passport, they did discover the Australian passports were the most common and the most expensive.
And while a wide range of vendors appeared to sell passport scans, only a small handful specialized in providing them.
Passports sold on the dark web came in a few forms:
Dark web vendors accept payment exclusively in cryptocurrency, typically Bitcoin or Monero. (all pricings in Comparitech's research were based on conversion rates on Sept. 24 and Sept. 25).
Most of the physical passports that Comparitech found for sale on the dark web were from European countries, with physical passports coming in two forms: genuine and forgeries. They can be used in fraud-related crimes as well as illegal immigration, human trafficking, and smuggling.
Authentic passports from Europe are hard to come by and cost a lot, with prices ranging from $8,216 for a German passport to $17,116 for the UK.
Forgeries are about one-tenth the price of real ones - but they still cost in excess of $1,000.
Criminals who purchase passport scans typically target one of three venues for fraud-related crimes: cryptocurrency exchanges, payment systems, and betting websites.
Here’s an example of how a passport scan might be used in an account recovery scam (summary courtesy of Comparitech):
Cryptocurrency exchanges and individual wallets are becoming popular targets, with more than $1 billion in crypto stolen last year. And as cryptos become more widely adopted, this type of fraud is only going to spread.