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There are many different types of money transfer methods, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. This section concentrates on comparing them, showing how each can be used as a method of obtaining money from the product vendor, and more importantly, doing so while keeping your privacy intact. You do not want to risk unwanted exposure.
Moving money from a company into your pocket is a large part of spam. It can be highly technical, especially when tax and offshore accounts come into play and the amounts grow to noticeable sums. Anonymity is a large factor to consider when getting paid because, until the payout stage, it is relatively easy to remain anonymous. If your name is written on a check and the check is sent to your home address, anonymity becomes much harder. Certain services offer better privacy protection than others, and it’s important to know who they are.
PayPal, now owned by ebay.com, was one of the first online payment systems launched. It has become the world’s standard for Internet payments and is supported by practically every company online today.
PayPal offers a quick, easy method of transferring money to someone else within the PayPal network. However, if you want to withdraw your virtual money into cold cash you face a slight problem. Until you verify your identity, you are unable to withdraw over a few hundred dollars a month to your bank account. This can be a slight annoyance, as the verification procedure makes sure that you are the one behind the account and records much of your personal data.
The verification process involves $1.00 being charged to a credit card you hold in the same name as your PayPal account, the description of this charge being a special authorization number. When entered into paypal.com, this number will finalize and fully authorize your account, proving that you are the owner of the credit card and that the credit card is in your physical possession. Once authorized, you are able to withdraw as much money as you want by means of a bank transfer back to your real bank account. Bank transfers are not a very fast method of sending money, especially when the money is sent internationally. You can expect the bank transfer to take at least one week to be processed, perhaps longer, depending on how international your destination is. International withdrawal is not available in some remote countries such as Estonia and Russia, so PayPal is not ideal for everyone, especially those who plan to have the account withdrawn to an offshore bank.
The good thing about PayPal is that they are a highly reputable and respected company. Even though they collect large amounts of personal data, they have a decent amount of security in place. It is unlikely that any hacker or spam activist would be able to break into PayPal in an attempt to track you down.
However, if law enforcement agencies were called in to track you down, and PayPal were asked to hand over your personal data, I am sure they would have no qualms about doing so. PayPal is a large corporation and therefore not suitable for every day spam activity. But they are very handy for one-time purchases and small spam runs where PayPal is the only payment method supported.
|Notes from the Underground…|| |
I use PayPal mostly when selling data to other spammers. Everyone in this industry has a PayPal account, and it is a very convenient way to receive one-time payments from other spammers. I withdraw the balance of my PayPal account once or twice a year to my personal bank account, when my balance has reached a substantial figure.
When you open a business account with PayPal, you are eligible to receive a PayPal debit card, allowing you to withdraw money from your PayPal account at any ATM or POS. This is only available with a business account, and you need to prove that you run a legitimate business. PayPal’s account fees are very reasonable. An account for personal use is entirely free, with the only costs occurring if you wish to withdraw money to an international destination. This makes PayPal very popular with spammers and is supported by almost everyone in the spam industry.
ePassporte is based in the Netherlands/Antilles and offers a very different method of sending and receiving money over the Internet. ePassporte utilizes both the credit and debit cards that VISA offers as a medium to transfer money. These cards act as virtual bank accounts, allowing users to manage funds online and transfer money to other ePassporte users, much like PayPal. The sign-up process is a little longer than that of other methods, but the service is easy to use and worth the effort.
To sign up for a new VISA electron debit card all you need to do is go to www.epassporte.com (seen in Figure 6.1). Within one month, you will receive your new debit card direct from the West Indies, and instructions for accessing your online account at www.epassporte.com.
Figure 6.1: An ePassporte Card
This is where ePassporte really shines. The card you are sent is a fully functional VISA credit card, accepted anywhere online and in any ATM. The only difference is that it has no credit associated to it; the only funds it has access to are those currently deposited in your account.
After receiving your debit card, you are given a username for accessing the online account. This username is the information you would give any company wishing to pay you. Any money transferred into your account is instantly available; you can walk to any ATM in almost any country in the world and withdraw your funds with no waiting period or processing time.
|Notes from the Underground…|| |
My First ePassporte
When I first received my epassporte.com card I was highly skeptical. I thought there would be long waits for transaction processing and many hurdles to jump over when you wanted to withdraw your money. Boy, was I wrong.
A few hours after I received my card in the mail, I gave my username to an online pharmacy that owed me $800.00 in sales, and instructed them to transfer the money to my ePassporte card. This was a test to see how useable ePassporte was, and how long would it take the money to go from the pharmacy to my account. A few minutes later, I checked my account and sure enough, $800.00 was the available balance.
I had previously set a pin number on my physical debit card so it could be used in any ATM that allowed credit card withdrawals and, being highly curious, I wandered outside and found the nearest ATM. I inserted my card, entered my pin number, and checked my balance. Sure enough, it was all there.
I then withdrew the $800.00 in $20.00 bills from the ATM; no problem whatsoever. The money had moved from one side of the world to the other and in my hand in under ten minutes (not including the four minutes it took to walk to the ATM). Since then I use it regularly; the only downside is having to carry so much cash from the ATM.
I often go for walks with friends of mine, stopping off at every ATM on the way so I can make a quick withdrawal. By the end of the night I am carrying at least $10,000.00 in $20.00 bills. My friends laugh at me; they don’t really know where the money is coming from, but they think it’s highly amusing that I end up carrying so much money in small notes. When asked how I earned the money, I often use, “I did some work for someone.” Once I even told a friend that I was dealing drugs, to this they replied, “Cool; good cash in that.” I don’t want my friends to know that I am the one that sent them all that spam.
Being an offshore bank and not under any direct American legal legislation, ePassporte has a strange privacy agreement that may make you think twice about signing up to their service, or at least giving them too much information about yourself. This privacy agreement is as follows:
“If you choose to provide us with your Personal Information on our Web site, we may transfer that Information within ePassporte or to ePassporte’s third-party service providers, across borders, and from your country or jurisdiction to other countries or jurisdictions around the world.
ePassporte receives and stores all information that you enter in our Web site and billing pages. In addition, ePassporte collects information about you during your visit, such as your IP address and ePassporte employs its software in order to ascertain your physical location when making a purchase. Except as set forth below, ePassporte does not collect information from sources such as public records, or private organizations. However, ePassporte does collect personal information you submit to its clients in order to complete transactions. You are required to provide ePassporte and its clients with accurate and up-to-date information, and your failure to accurately provide such information could result in the voiding of your agreement(s) with ePassporte.”
This is a very loose privacy agreement, which doesn’t really offer any privacy. ePassporte can transfer your personal information within ePassporte’s network or to any of ePassporte’s third-party service providers in different countries. This means that your information is not secure; you have very little privacy in what can be a very dangerous workplace.
Signing up for an ePassporte account requires sharing a fair amount of information. The card has to be created under your name, and you have to provide valid photo identification at various times during account verification. This is done to ensure that you are the correct accountholder and that you are not using the card for fraudulent activity.
Using an Alias
Being the person I am, I have found a way to create an account under a different name, hiding my true identity and location. I do not wish to disclose the method I used for fear of ePassport closing my account, but it is possible. Even though ePassporte offers some privacy protection, there is a way to use fake information when creating an account. Your real personal information is kept secret, while still keeping all your funds in a secure offshore location. As always, thinking creatively helps in every aspect of spam, but I do not recommend any illegal actions be followed.
ePassporte accounts carry a small annual fee that is very reasonable considering the gains the service offers. A yearly charge of $35.00 is incurred for each card and $2.00 is incurred for each ATM transaction. ePassporte is also supported by most product vendor companies. Monthly payments from vendors are quick; you can have the cash in hand only a few minutes after the company pays you. ePassporte also allows for a quick getaway; your money does not sit in financial limbo for long, greatly reducing the chance of someone intercepting or hindering your transactions.
Many spammers promote the use of ePassporte as a method to receive and send payments, but you should be aware of their privacy agreement, or lack of, since the last thing you want is for someone to know who you are. Anonymity is a very large part of spam, and all spammers need to have a very thin paper trail, being very cautious about the personal information they divulge and to whom.
The most traditional method of receiving money is by check. Supported by every Internet product vendor, check payments have been around since the dawn of the Internet, but they are definitely becoming obsolete in today’s world.
There aren’t many advantages to using a check for payment when compared to electronic methods. Checks require you to give out your real name and a valid and secure postal address, which leaves a clearly defined paper trail leading back to you. Your name, address, and personal bank statements are recorded with the company you are promoting, directly linking your address and bank account to them.
As Pete Wellborn, one of the largest spam hunters for EarthLink Corporation said:
“The best way to catch a spammer is by following the money trail. No matter how much false information there is in the spam e-mail, there has to be one true bit of information for the spammer to separate you from your money.”
|Notes from the Underground…|| |
Spammers have to be paranoid. In this industry you never know what’s going to happen. Police and spam hunters are not the only people to fear. There is more danger in getting on the wrong side of certain Webmasters, especially those who are multi-millionaires. There are stories of multi-millionaire businessmen paying very unsavory, large friends to track down spammers; people employed to threaten physical pain. I have heard of such an incident when a spammer became angry with a pornography site when they refused to pay his referral account, and Denial of Serviced it for over a week. The spammer was badly beaten and ended up in the hospital for three months.
It really pays to be anonymous. You don’t work in this industry to get famous.
|Notes from the Underground…|| |
Checks for Payment
I try to be as careful as possible whenever I accept a check as payment. The only reason I would accept a check would be if it was the only payment method offered.
All checks are mailed to a P.O. box I opened under a different name, and paid for with cash at a local post office. My real name is on the check, but the postal address is the name of the P.O. box holder. This is to discredit the check as evidence if it was ever used in court. Having one name on the check and another on the letter reduces the direct link I have with the check, since there is questionable doubt of whom the check is really addressed to.
If the value of the check is under $1,000.00, I deposit it into my local bank account. I only receive two or three checks a year, so there isn’t much risk in doing this. If the value of the check is considerable, I go to certain lengths to hide its presence. I hold another bank account in a small tax-free Pacific island. I personally fly to this island to deposit my check. This particular country offers a very high level of privacy, and I know my money cannot be tracked by any U.S. authorities. It is worth the $1,500.00 flight to not hide my money so that I don’t have to declare it to the taxman. In addition, I get to have a holiday in the sun, which sure beats working.
The down side is the international check clearing time; each check takes between four and five weeks to clear. If the check bounces, my investment in both time and flight costs are wasted. Once the money is cleared, I move the balance into my credit card that I hold at the same bank. Now it’s simply a case of withdrawing crisp $20.00 bills from the ATM. The money comes out as clean greenback; no history of spam and no audit trail to be followed. The cash is then either deposited into my local bank account or spent. If any questions arise from the deposit, or the amount of the deposit, I simply say I made the money in Vegas. Cash is very anonymous and hard to disprove.
Another reason not to use a check when receiving payment is the risk of check fraud. It is very easy for someone to write a dead check, especially if it is an international check. You will end up paying the bill for the check being bounced, at a cost of between $30.00 and $50.00.
Bouncing checks is very common among Internet-based companies, especially those who are close to bankruptcy. There are many scams on the Internet, and when it comes to paying Webmasters and spammers, many companies attempt to send bad checks, knowing there is little the spammer can do about it.
Neteller is a relatively new service that is competing with both ePassporte and PayPal in the online payment industry. Neteller offers a very similar service to ePassporte but is targeted more to Canadian and U.S. residents. You can open up an account with this Isle Of Man-based online bank much like that of ePassporte and PayPal. Withdrawals and deposits within the Neteller network are instant, and offer a very efficient way to send money to other Neteller users.
Withdrawing the funds to cash is a little different, however; if you are within the U.S. or Canada, you must first verify an American or Canadian bank account. Much like PayPal’s account verification, Neteller credits a local bank account with less than $1.00 (at Netellers expense). You then authorize the transaction and withdraw funds to that bank account.
Neteller issues you with a personal debit card (see Figure 6.2), much like that of ePassporte’s. If you are not located within the U.S. or Canada, this debit card is the only way to withdraw funds. The debit card uses the Cirrus/Maestro network much like ePassporte, and works globally in any ATM or POS. The downside to this card is that it is not backed by VISA like ePassporte is. This means the integrity and insurance of the account is not covered by a global giant, but by a smaller third party. This doesn’t make me comfortable; I doubt the account offers the same level of protection from fraud as VISA do.
Figure 6.2: Neteller Debit Card
However, Neteller has an amazing privacy agreement, which is one of the best things about the service they offer. They also have concise and well-defined rules around privacy.
Because they are located in the Isle of Man, they are not under any direct U.S. legal legislation, unlike PayPal.
“NETeller will not sell or rent any of your personally identifiable information to third parties.
NETeller will not share any of your personally identifiable information with third parties except in the limited circumstances described below, or with your express permission. These third parties are limited by law or by contract from using the information for secondary purposes beyond the purposes for which the information is shared.
We share information with companies that help us process the transactions you request and protect our customers’ transactions from fraud, such as sharing your credit card number with a service that screens for lost and stolen card numbers. Additionally, if you go into a negative balance and owe us money, we may share information with processing companies including collection agencies.
We disclose information that we in good faith believe is appropriate to cooperate in investigations of fraud or other illegal activity, or to conduct investigations of violations of our User Agreement. Specifically, this means that if we conduct a fraud investigation and conclude that one side has engaged in deceptive practices, we can give that person or entity’s contact information (but not bank account or credit card information) to victims who request it.
We disclose information in response to a subpoena, warrant, court order, levy, attachment, order of a court-appointed receiver or other comparable legal process, including subpoenas from private parties in a civil action.
We disclose information to your agent or legal representative (such as the holder of a power of attorney that you grant, or a guardian appointed for you).
Neteller obviously wants to work within the boundaries of the law; if the bank is subpoenaed to give out your personal information, they will. However, they will not disclose your information for any other reason. The company is reputable enough to be honest, but still wishes to keep privacy for their users. Being located in a tax-free country such as the Isle of Man ensures that U.S. tax authorities will not be notified of any withdrawals from your account.
Neteller is a new service, which is already supported by most online casinos, and many online pharmacies now offer Neteller as a method for payment. The service is growing quickly, and I suspect that in a few years they will be as big as ePassporte or PayPal.
Wire transfers offer a great way of securely receiving money from product vendors, but they really only work well if you are receiving large amounts of money and having it transferred to an offshore location. The reason for this is that most companies ask for up to a $50.00 fee for each wire transaction, and the minimum amount to transfer is usually significantly higher than that of other payment options. Account balances of up to $1,000.00 to $2,000.00 are commonly required, simply because it requires more effort from the vendor (the vendor is required to walk down to the bank and physically make the transfer).
However, wire transfers are secure and reliable, and as long as you are not moving over $100,000.00, you will not be drawing much attention to yourself from federal tax authorities. Still, you do not want to be moving money directly into an American bank account, as it can prove very easy to trace. All it takes is one angry online pharmacy bent on suing any spammer that unlawfully promotes their product; it would only take them a short time to track you down, because they would have your real bank account number and your real name.
If a spammer receives money via a wire transfer, many will be sure that it is sent to an offshore bank account. This makes it slightly harder to track down the real identity and residential address, because local authorities would need to be contacted to force the bank to disclose personal information. Not to mention spam is legal in many remote pacific islands, making it even harder to subpoena personal information.
A wire transfer may take between one and four weeks, depending on the destination of the transfer and the speed at which the bank acts. Every company that offers a check payment option will also offer wire transfers. Western Union is another method that can be used to wire money that is used mostly by private companies or when large, one-time transactions are required. Western Union is a great service; you can wire money to any part of the world and have it picked up instantly in cash by the recipient. All you have to do is go to a Western Union branch and make a deposit addressed to Mr. Spammer X to be picked up at the Pittsburg branch. Spammer X walks in, shows a passport or other photo identification, and picks up the package of money.
Not many product vendors support Western Union, mostly because it requires a certain level of effort. You have to walk to the branch, pay in cash, and say exactly where the money is being sent. It is very useful for large one-time money transfers, buying mailing lists, or splitting profits with other spammers. Spammers use almost every method of sending money available. I have seen some very bright spammers who have even become their own accountants, moving and hiding all their earnings away from the eyes of the government.
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