Category Archives: DomainTools.com

KrebsOnSecurity Threatened with Defamation Lawsuit Over Fake Radaris CEO

On March 8, 2024, KrebsOnSecurity published a deep dive on the consumer data broker Radaris, showing how the original owners are two men in Massachusetts who operated multiple Russian language dating services and affiliate programs, in addition to a dizzying array of people-search websites. The subjects of that piece are threatening to sue KrebsOnSecurity for defamation unless the story is retracted. Meanwhile, their attorney has admitted that the person Radaris named as the CEO from its inception is a fabricated identity.

Radaris is just one cog in a sprawling network of people-search properties online that sell highly detailed background reports on U.S. consumers and businesses. Those reports typically include the subject’s current and previous addresses, partial Social Security numbers, any known licenses, email addresses and phone numbers, as well as the same information for any of their immediate relatives.

Radaris has a less-than-stellar reputation when it comes to responding to consumers seeking to have their reports removed from its various people-search services. That poor reputation, combined with indications that the true founders of Radaris have gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal their stewardship of the company, was what prompted KrebsOnSecurity to investigate the origins of Radaris in the first place.

On April 18, KrebsOnSecurity received a certified letter (PDF) from Valentin “Val” Gurvits, an attorney with the Boston Law Group, stating that KrebsOnSecurity would face a withering defamation lawsuit unless the Radaris story was immediately retracted and an apology issued to the two brothers named in the story as co-founders.

That March story worked backwards from the email address used to register radaris.com, and charted an impressive array of data broker companies created over the past 15 years by Massachusetts residents Dmitry and Igor Lubarsky (also sometimes spelled Lybarsky or Lubarski). Dmitry goes by “Dan,” and Igor uses the name “Gary.”

Those businesses included numerous websites marketed to Russian-speaking people who are new to the United States, such as russianamerica.com, newyork.ru, russiancleveland.com, russianla.com, russianmiami.com, etc. Other domains connected to the Lubarskys included Russian-language dating and adult websites, as well as affiliate programs for their international calling card businesses.

A mind map of various entities apparently tied to Radaris and the company’s co-founders. Click to enlarge.

The story on Radaris noted that the Lubarsky brothers registered most of their businesses using a made-up name — “Gary Norden,” sometimes called Gary Nord or Gary Nard.

Mr. Gurvits’ letter stated emphatically that my reporting was lazy, mean-spirited, and obviously intended to smear the reputation of his clients. By way of example, Mr. Gurvits said the Lubarskys were actually Ukrainian, and that the story painted his clients in a negative light by insinuating that they were somehow associated with Radaris and with vaguely nefarious elements in Russia.

But more to the point, Mr. Gurvits said, neither of his clients were Gary Norden, and neither had ever held any leadership positions at Radaris, nor were they financial beneficiaries of the company in any way.

“Neither of my clients is a founder of Radaris, and neither of my clients is the CEOs of Radaris,” Gurvits wrote. “Additionally, presently and going back at least the past 10 years, neither of my clients are (or were) officers or employees of Radaris. Indeed, neither of them even owns (or ever owned) any equity in Radaris. In intentional disregard of these facts, the Article implies that my clients are personally responsible for Radaris’ actions. Therefore, you intentionally caused all negative allegations in the Article made with respect to Radaris to be imputed against my clients personally.”

Dan Lubarsky’s Facebook page, just prior to the March 8 story about Radaris, said he was from Moscow.

We took Mr. Gurvits’ word on the ethnicity of his clients, and adjusted the story to remove a single mention that they were Russian. We did so even though Dan Lubarsky’s own Facebook page said (until recently) that he was from Moscow, Russia.

KrebsOnSecurity asked Mr. Gurvits to explain precisely which other details in the story were incorrect, and replied that we would be happy to update the story with a correction if they could demonstrate any errors of fact or omission.

We also requested specifics about several aspects of the story, such as the identity of the current Radaris CEO — listed on the Radaris website as “Victor K.” Mr. Gurvits replied that Radaris is and always has been based in Ukraine, and that the company’s true founder “Eugene L” is based there.

While Radaris has claimed to have offices in Massachusetts, Cyprus and Latvia, its website has never mentioned Ukraine. Mr. Gurvits has not responded to requests for more information about the identities of “Eugene L” or “Victor K.”

Gurvits said he had no intention of doing anyone’s reporting for them, and that the Lubarskys were going to sue KrebsOnSecurity for defamation unless the story was retracted in full. KrebsOnSecurity replied that journalists often face challenges to things that they report, but it is more than rare for one who makes a challenge to take umbrage at being asked for supporting information.

On June 13, Mr. Gurvits sent another letter (PDF) that continued to claim KrebsOnSecurity was defaming his clients, only this time Gurvits said his clients would be satisfied if KrebsOnSecurity just removed their names from the story.

“Ultimately, my clients don’t care what you say about any of the websites or corporate entities in your Article, as long as you completely remove my clients’ names from the Article and cooperate with my clients to have copies of the Article where my clients’ names appear removed from the Internet,” Mr. Gurvits wrote.

MEET THE FAKE RADARIS CEO

The June 13 letter explained that the name Gary Norden was a pseudonym invented by the Radaris marketing division, but that neither of the Lubarsky brothers were Norden.

This was a startling admission, given that Radaris has quoted the fictitious Gary Norden in press releases published and paid for by Radaris, and in news media stories where the company is explicitly seeking money from investors. In other words, Radaris has been misrepresenting itself to investors from the beginning. Here’s a press release from Radaris that was published on PR Newswire in April 2011:

A press release published by Radaris in 2011 names the CEO of Radaris as Gary Norden, which was a fake name made up by Radaris’ marketing department.

In April 2014, the Boston Business Journal published a story (PDF) about Radaris that extolled the company’s rapid growth and considerable customer base. The story noted that, “to date, the company has raised less than $1 million from Cyprus-based investment company Difive.”

“We live in a world where information becomes much more broad and much more available every single day,” the Boston Business Journal quoted Radaris’ fake CEO Gary Norden, who by then had somehow been demoted from CEO to vice president of business development.

A Boston Business Journal story from April 2014 quotes the fictitious Radaris CEO Gary Norden.

“We decided there needs to be a service that allows for ease of monitoring of information about people,” the fake CEO said. The story went on to say Radaris was seeking to raise between $5 million and $7 million from investors in the ensuing months.

THE BIG LUBARSKY

In his most recent demand letter, Mr. Gurvits helpfully included resumes for both of the Lubarsky brothers.

Gary/Dmitry Lubarsky’s resume states he is the owner of Difive.com, a startup incubator for IT companies. Recall that Difive is the same company mentioned by the fake Radaris CEO in the 2014 Boston Business Journal story, which said Difive was the company’s initial and sole investor.

Difive’s website in 2016 said it had offices in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Riga (Latvia) and Moscow (nothing in Ukraine). Meanwhile, DomainTools.com reports difive.com was originally registered in 2007 to the fictitious Gary Norden from Massachusetts.

Archived copies of the Difive website from 2017 include a “Portfolio” page indexing all of the companies in which Difive has invested. That list, available here, includes virtually every “Gary Norden” domain name mentioned in my original report, plus a few that escaped notice earlier.

Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he was CEO of a people search company called HumanBook. The Wayback machine at archive.org shows the Humanbook domain (humanbook.com) came online around April 2008, when the company was still in “beta” mode.

By August 2008, however, humanbook.com had changed the name advertised on its homepage to Radaris Beta. Eventually, Humanbook simply redirected to radaris.com.

Archive.org’s record of humanbook.com from 2008, just after its homepage changed to Radaris Beta.

Astute readers may notice that the domain radaris.com is not among the companies listed as Difive investments. However, passive domain name system (DNS) records from DomainTools show that between October 2023 and March 2024 radaris.com was hosted alongside all of the other Gary Norden domains at the Internet address range 38.111.228.x.

That address range simultaneously hosted every domain mentioned in this story and in the original March 2024 report as connected to email addresses used by Gary Norden, including radaris.com, radaris.ru, radaris.de, difive.com, privet.ru, blog.ru, comfi.com, phoneowner.com, russianamerica.com, eprofit.com, rehold.com, homeflock.com, humanbook.com and dozens more. A spreadsheet of those historical DNS entries for radaris.com is available here (.csv).

Image: DomainTools.com

The breach tracking service Constella Intelligence finds just two email addresses ending in difive.com have been exposed in data breaches over the years: dan@difive.com, and gn@difive.com. Presumably, “gn” stands for Gary Norden.

A search on the email address gn@difive.com via the breach tracking service osint.industries reveals this address was used to create an account at Airbnb under the name Gary, with the last four digits of the account’s phone number ending in “0001.”

Constella Intelligence finds gn@difive.com was associated with the Massachusetts number 617-794-0001, which was used to register accounts for “Igor Lybarsky” from Wellesley or Sherborn, Ma. at multiple online businesses, including audiusa.com and the designer eyewear store luxottica.com.

The phone number 617-794-0001 also appears for a “Gary Nard” user at russianamerica.com. Igor Lubarsky’s resume says he was the manager of russianamerica.com.

DomainTools finds 617-794-0001 is connected to registration records for three domains, including paytone.com, a domain that Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he managed. DomainTools also found that number on the registration records for trustoria.com, another major consumer data broker that has an atrocious reputation, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he was responsible for several international telecommunications services, including the website comfi.com. DomainTools says the phone number connected to that domain — 617-952-4234 — was also used on the registration records for humanbook.net/biz/info/mobi/us, as well as for radaris.me, radaris.in, and radaris.tel.

Two other key domains are connected to that phone number. The first is barsky.com, which is the website for Barsky Estate Realty Trust (PDF), a real estate holding company controlled by the Lubarskys. Naturally, DomainTools finds barsky.com also was registered to a Gary Norden from Massachusetts. But the organization listed in the barsky.com registration records is Comfi Inc., a VOIP communications firm that Igor Lubarsky’s resume says he managed.

The other domain of note is unipointtechnologies.com. Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he was the CEO of Wellesley Hills, Mass-based Unipoint Technology Inc. In 2012, Unipoint was fined $179,000 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which said the company had failed to apply for a license to provide international telecommunications services.

PATENTLY REMARKABLE

The 2011 Radaris press release quoting their fake CEO Gary Norden said the company had four patents pending from a team of computer science PhDs. According to the resume shared by Mr. Gurvits, Dan Lubarsky has a PhD in computer science.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) says Dan Lubarsky/Lubarski has at least nine technology patents to his name. The fake CEO press release from Radaris mentioning its four patents was published in April 2011. By that time, the PTO says Dan Lubarsky had applied for exactly four patents, including, “System and Method for a Web-Based People Directory.” The first of those patents, published in 2009, is tied to Humanbook.com, the company Dan Lubarsky founded that later changed its name to Radaris.

If the Lubarskys were never involved in Radaris, how do they or their attorney know the inside information that Gary Norden is a fiction of Radaris’ marketing department? KrebsOnSecurity has learned that Mr. Gurvits is the same attorney responding on behalf of Radaris in a lawsuit against the data broker filed earlier this year by Atlas Data Privacy.

Mr. Gurvits also stepped forward as Radaris’ attorney in a class action lawsuit the company lost in 2017 because it never contested the claim in court. When the plaintiffs told the judge they couldn’t collect on the $7.5 million default judgment, the judge ordered the domain registry Verisign to transfer the radaris.com domain name to the plaintiffs.

Mr. Gurvits appealed the verdict, arguing that the lawsuit hadn’t named the actual owners of the Radaris domain name — a Cyprus company called Bitseller Expert Limited — and thus taking the domain away would be a violation of their due process rights.

The judge ruled in Radaris’ favor — halting the domain transfer — and told the plaintiffs they could refile their complaint. Soon after, the operator of Radaris changed from Bitseller to Andtop Company, an entity formed (PDF) in the Marshall Islands in Oct. 2020. Andtop also operates the aforementioned people-search service Trustoria.

Mr. Gurvits’ most-publicized defamation case was a client named Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian technology executive whose name appeared in the Steele Dossier. That document included a collection of salacious, unverified information gathered by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the direction of former president Donald Trump’s political rivals.

Gubarev, the head of the IT services company XBT Holding and the Florida web hosting firm Webzilla, sued BuzzFeed for publishing the Steele dossier. One of the items in the dossier alleged that XBT/Webzilla and affiliated companies played a key role in the hack of Democratic Party computers in the spring of 2016. The memo alleged Gubarev had been coerced into providing services to Russia’s main domestic security agency, known as the FSB.

In December 2018, a federal judge in Miami ruled in favor of BuzzFeed, saying the publication was protected by the fair report privilege, which gives news organizations latitude in reporting on official government proceedings.

Radaris was originally operated by Bitseller Expert Limited. Who owns Bitseller Expert Limited? A report (PDF) obtained from the Cyprus business registry shows this company lists its director as Pavel Kaydash from Moscow. Mr. Kaydash could not be reached for comment.

KrebsOnSecurity Threatened with Defamation Lawsuit Over Fake Radaris CEO

On March 8, 2024, KrebsOnSecurity published a deep dive on the consumer data broker Radaris, showing how the original owners are two men in Massachusetts who operated multiple Russian language dating services and affiliate programs, in addition to a dizzying array of people-search websites. The subjects of that piece are threatening to sue KrebsOnSecurity for defamation unless the story is retracted. Meanwhile, their attorney has admitted that the person Radaris named as the CEO from its inception is a fabricated identity.

Radaris is just one cog in a sprawling network of people-search properties online that sell highly detailed background reports on U.S. consumers and businesses. Those reports typically include the subject’s current and previous addresses, partial Social Security numbers, any known licenses, email addresses and phone numbers, as well as the same information for any of their immediate relatives.

Radaris has a less-than-stellar reputation when it comes to responding to consumers seeking to have their reports removed from its various people-search services. That poor reputation, combined with indications that the true founders of Radaris have gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal their stewardship of the company, was what prompted KrebsOnSecurity to investigate the origins of Radaris in the first place.

On April 18, KrebsOnSecurity received a certified letter (PDF) from Valentin “Val” Gurvits, an attorney with the Boston Law Group, stating that KrebsOnSecurity would face a withering defamation lawsuit unless the Radaris story was immediately retracted and an apology issued to the two brothers named in the story as co-founders.

That March story worked backwards from the email address used to register radaris.com, and charted an impressive array of data broker companies created over the past 15 years by Massachusetts residents Dmitry and Igor Lubarsky (also sometimes spelled Lybarsky or Lubarski). Dmitry goes by “Dan,” and Igor uses the name “Gary.”

Those businesses included numerous websites marketed to Russian-speaking people who are new to the United States, such as russianamerica.com, newyork.ru, russiancleveland.com, russianla.com, russianmiami.com, etc. Other domains connected to the Lubarskys included Russian-language dating and adult websites, as well as affiliate programs for their international calling card businesses.

A mind map of various entities apparently tied to Radaris and the company’s co-founders. Click to enlarge.

The story on Radaris noted that the Lubarsky brothers registered most of their businesses using a made-up name — “Gary Norden,” sometimes called Gary Nord or Gary Nard.

Mr. Gurvits’ letter stated emphatically that my reporting was lazy, mean-spirited, and obviously intended to smear the reputation of his clients. By way of example, Mr. Gurvits said the Lubarskys were actually Ukrainian, and that the story painted his clients in a negative light by insinuating that they were somehow associated with Radaris and with vaguely nefarious elements in Russia.

But more to the point, Mr. Gurvits said, neither of his clients were Gary Norden, and neither had ever held any leadership positions at Radaris, nor were they financial beneficiaries of the company in any way.

“Neither of my clients is a founder of Radaris, and neither of my clients is the CEOs of Radaris,” Gurvits wrote. “Additionally, presently and going back at least the past 10 years, neither of my clients are (or were) officers or employees of Radaris. Indeed, neither of them even owns (or ever owned) any equity in Radaris. In intentional disregard of these facts, the Article implies that my clients are personally responsible for Radaris’ actions. Therefore, you intentionally caused all negative allegations in the Article made with respect to Radaris to be imputed against my clients personally.”

Dan Lubarsky’s Facebook page, just prior to the March 8 story about Radaris, said he was from Moscow.

We took Mr. Gurvits’ word on the ethnicity of his clients, and adjusted the story to remove a single mention that they were Russian. We did so even though Dan Lubarsky’s own Facebook page said (until recently) that he was from Moscow, Russia.

KrebsOnSecurity asked Mr. Gurvits to explain precisely which other details in the story were incorrect, and replied that we would be happy to update the story with a correction if they could demonstrate any errors of fact or omission.

We also requested specifics about several aspects of the story, such as the identity of the current Radaris CEO — listed on the Radaris website as “Victor K.” Mr. Gurvits replied that Radaris is and always has been based in Ukraine, and that the company’s true founder “Eugene L” is based there.

While Radaris has claimed to have offices in Massachusetts, Cyprus and Latvia, its website has never mentioned Ukraine. Mr. Gurvits has not responded to requests for more information about the identities of “Eugene L” or “Victor K.”

Gurvits said he had no intention of doing anyone’s reporting for them, and that the Lubarskys were going to sue KrebsOnSecurity for defamation unless the story was retracted in full. KrebsOnSecurity replied that journalists often face challenges to things that they report, but it is more than rare for one who makes a challenge to take umbrage at being asked for supporting information.

On June 13, Mr. Gurvits sent another letter (PDF) that continued to claim KrebsOnSecurity was defaming his clients, only this time Gurvits said his clients would be satisfied if KrebsOnSecurity just removed their names from the story.

“Ultimately, my clients don’t care what you say about any of the websites or corporate entities in your Article, as long as you completely remove my clients’ names from the Article and cooperate with my clients to have copies of the Article where my clients’ names appear removed from the Internet,” Mr. Gurvits wrote.

MEET THE FAKE RADARIS CEO

The June 13 letter explained that the name Gary Norden was a pseudonym invented by the Radaris marketing division, but that neither of the Lubarsky brothers were Norden.

This was a startling admission, given that Radaris has quoted the fictitious Gary Norden in press releases published and paid for by Radaris, and in news media stories where the company is explicitly seeking money from investors. In other words, Radaris has been misrepresenting itself to investors from the beginning. Here’s a press release from Radaris that was published on PR Newswire in April 2011:

A press release published by Radaris in 2011 names the CEO of Radaris as Gary Norden, which was a fake name made up by Radaris’ marketing department.

In April 2014, the Boston Business Journal published a story (PDF) about Radaris that extolled the company’s rapid growth and considerable customer base. The story noted that, “to date, the company has raised less than $1 million from Cyprus-based investment company Difive.”

“We live in a world where information becomes much more broad and much more available every single day,” the Boston Business Journal quoted Radaris’ fake CEO Gary Norden, who by then had somehow been demoted from CEO to vice president of business development.

A Boston Business Journal story from April 2014 quotes the fictitious Radaris CEO Gary Norden.

“We decided there needs to be a service that allows for ease of monitoring of information about people,” the fake CEO said. The story went on to say Radaris was seeking to raise between $5 million and $7 million from investors in the ensuing months.

THE BIG LUBARSKY

In his most recent demand letter, Mr. Gurvits helpfully included resumes for both of the Lubarsky brothers.

Gary/Dmitry Lubarsky’s resume states he is the owner of Difive.com, a startup incubator for IT companies. Recall that Difive is the same company mentioned by the fake Radaris CEO in the 2014 Boston Business Journal story, which said Difive was the company’s initial and sole investor.

Difive’s website in 2016 said it had offices in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Riga (Latvia) and Moscow (nothing in Ukraine). Meanwhile, DomainTools.com reports difive.com was originally registered in 2007 to the fictitious Gary Norden from Massachusetts.

Archived copies of the Difive website from 2017 include a “Portfolio” page indexing all of the companies in which Difive has invested. That list, available here, includes virtually every “Gary Norden” domain name mentioned in my original report, plus a few that escaped notice earlier.

Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he was CEO of a people search company called HumanBook. The Wayback machine at archive.org shows the Humanbook domain (humanbook.com) came online around April 2008, when the company was still in “beta” mode.

By August 2008, however, humanbook.com had changed the name advertised on its homepage to Radaris Beta. Eventually, Humanbook simply redirected to radaris.com.

Archive.org’s record of humanbook.com from 2008, just after its homepage changed to Radaris Beta.

Astute readers may notice that the domain radaris.com is not among the companies listed as Difive investments. However, passive domain name system (DNS) records from DomainTools show that between October 2023 and March 2024 radaris.com was hosted alongside all of the other Gary Norden domains at the Internet address range 38.111.228.x.

That address range simultaneously hosted every domain mentioned in this story and in the original March 2024 report as connected to email addresses used by Gary Norden, including radaris.com, radaris.ru, radaris.de, difive.com, privet.ru, blog.ru, comfi.com, phoneowner.com, russianamerica.com, eprofit.com, rehold.com, homeflock.com, humanbook.com and dozens more. A spreadsheet of those historical DNS entries for radaris.com is available here (.csv).

Image: DomainTools.com

The breach tracking service Constella Intelligence finds just two email addresses ending in difive.com have been exposed in data breaches over the years: dan@difive.com, and gn@difive.com. Presumably, “gn” stands for Gary Norden.

A search on the email address gn@difive.com via the breach tracking service osint.industries reveals this address was used to create an account at Airbnb under the name Gary, with the last four digits of the account’s phone number ending in “0001.”

Constella Intelligence finds gn@difive.com was associated with the Massachusetts number 617-794-0001, which was used to register accounts for “Igor Lybarsky” from Wellesley or Sherborn, Ma. at multiple online businesses, including audiusa.com and the designer eyewear store luxottica.com.

The phone number 617-794-0001 also appears for a “Gary Nard” user at russianamerica.com. Igor Lubarsky’s resume says he was the manager of russianamerica.com.

DomainTools finds 617-794-0001 is connected to registration records for three domains, including paytone.com, a domain that Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he managed. DomainTools also found that number on the registration records for trustoria.com, another major consumer data broker that has an atrocious reputation, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he was responsible for several international telecommunications services, including the website comfi.com. DomainTools says the phone number connected to that domain — 617-952-4234 — was also used on the registration records for humanbook.net/biz/info/mobi/us, as well as for radaris.me, radaris.in, and radaris.tel.

Two other key domains are connected to that phone number. The first is barsky.com, which is the website for Barsky Estate Realty Trust (PDF), a real estate holding company controlled by the Lubarskys. Naturally, DomainTools finds barsky.com also was registered to a Gary Norden from Massachusetts. But the organization listed in the barsky.com registration records is Comfi Inc., a VOIP communications firm that Igor Lubarsky’s resume says he managed.

The other domain of note is unipointtechnologies.com. Dan Lubarsky’s resume says he was the CEO of Wellesley Hills, Mass-based Unipoint Technology Inc. In 2012, Unipoint was fined $179,000 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which said the company had failed to apply for a license to provide international telecommunications services.

PATENTLY REMARKABLE

The 2011 Radaris press release quoting their fake CEO Gary Norden said the company had four patents pending from a team of computer science PhDs. According to the resume shared by Mr. Gurvits, Dan Lubarsky has a PhD in computer science.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) says Dan Lubarsky/Lubarski has at least nine technology patents to his name. The fake CEO press release from Radaris mentioning its four patents was published in April 2011. By that time, the PTO says Dan Lubarsky had applied for exactly four patents, including, “System and Method for a Web-Based People Directory.” The first of those patents, published in 2009, is tied to Humanbook.com, the company Dan Lubarsky founded that later changed its name to Radaris.

If the Lubarskys were never involved in Radaris, how do they or their attorney know the inside information that Gary Norden is a fiction of Radaris’ marketing department? KrebsOnSecurity has learned that Mr. Gurvits is the same attorney responding on behalf of Radaris in a lawsuit against the data broker filed earlier this year by Atlas Data Privacy.

Mr. Gurvits also stepped forward as Radaris’ attorney in a class action lawsuit the company lost in 2017 because it never contested the claim in court. When the plaintiffs told the judge they couldn’t collect on the $7.5 million default judgment, the judge ordered the domain registry Verisign to transfer the radaris.com domain name to the plaintiffs.

Mr. Gurvits appealed the verdict, arguing that the lawsuit hadn’t named the actual owners of the Radaris domain name — a Cyprus company called Bitseller Expert Limited — and thus taking the domain away would be a violation of their due process rights.

The judge ruled in Radaris’ favor — halting the domain transfer — and told the plaintiffs they could refile their complaint. Soon after, the operator of Radaris changed from Bitseller to Andtop Company, an entity formed (PDF) in the Marshall Islands in Oct. 2020. Andtop also operates the aforementioned people-search service Trustoria.

Mr. Gurvits’ most-publicized defamation case was a client named Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian technology executive whose name appeared in the Steele Dossier. That document included a collection of salacious, unverified information gathered by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign at the direction of former president Donald Trump’s political rivals.

Gubarev, the head of the IT services company XBT Holding and the Florida web hosting firm Webzilla, sued BuzzFeed for publishing the Steele dossier. One of the items in the dossier alleged that XBT/Webzilla and affiliated companies played a key role in the hack of Democratic Party computers in the spring of 2016. The memo alleged Gubarev had been coerced into providing services to Russia’s main domestic security agency, known as the FSB.

In December 2018, a federal judge in Miami ruled in favor of BuzzFeed, saying the publication was protected by the fair report privilege, which gives news organizations latitude in reporting on official government proceedings.

Radaris was originally operated by Bitseller Expert Limited. Who owns Bitseller Expert Limited? A report (PDF) obtained from the Cyprus business registry shows this company lists its director as Pavel Kaydash from Moscow. Mr. Kaydash could not be reached for comment.

Twitter’s Clumsy Pivot to X.com Is a Gift to Phishers

On April 9, Twitter/X began automatically modifying links that mention “twitter.com” to read “x.com” instead. But over the past 48 hours, dozens of new domain names have been registered that demonstrate how this change could be used to craft convincing phishing links — such as fedetwitter[.]com, which until very recently rendered as fedex.com in tweets.

The message displayed when one visits carfatwitter.com, which Twitter/X displayed as carfax.com in tweets and messages.

A search at DomainTools.com shows at least 60 domain names have been registered over the past two days for domains ending in “twitter.com,” although research so far shows the majority of these domains have been registered “defensively” by private individuals to prevent the domains from being purchased by scammers.

Those include carfatwitter.com, which Twitter/X truncated to carfax.com when the domain appeared in user messages or tweets. Visiting this domain currently displays a message that begins, “Are you serious, X Corp?”

Update: It appears Twitter/X has corrected its mistake, and no longer truncates any domain ending in “twitter.com” to “x.com.”

Original story:

The same message is on other newly registered domains, including goodrtwitter.com (goodrx.com), neobutwitter.com (neobux.com), roblotwitter.com (roblox.com), square-enitwitter.com (square-enix.com) and yandetwitter.com (yandex.com). The message left on these domains indicates they were defensively registered by a user on Mastodon whose bio says they are a systems admin/engineer. That profile has not responded to requests for comment.

A number of these new domains including “twitter.com” appear to be registered defensively by Twitter/X users in Japan. The domain netflitwitter.com (netflix.com, to Twitter/X users) now displays a message saying it was “acquired to prevent its use for malicious purposes,” along with a Twitter/X username.

The domain mentioned at the beginning of this story — fedetwitter.com — redirects users to the blog of a Japanese technology enthusiast. A user with the handle “amplest0e” appears to have registered space-twitter.com, which Twitter/X users would see as the CEO’s “space-x.com.” The domain “ametwitter.com” already redirects to the real americanexpress.com.

Some of the domains registered recently and ending in “twitter.com” currently do not resolve and contain no useful contact information in their registration records. Those include firefotwitter[.]com (firefox.com), ngintwitter[.]com (nginx.com), and webetwitter[.]com (webex.com).

The domain setwitter.com, which Twitter/X until very recently rendered as “sex.com,” redirects to this blog post warning about the recent changes and their potential use for phishing.

Sean McNee, vice president of research and data at DomainTools, told KrebsOnSecurity it appears Twitter/X did not properly limit its redirection efforts.

“Bad actors could register domains as a way to divert traffic from legitimate sites or brands given the opportunity — many such brands in the top million domains end in x, such as webex, hbomax, xerox, xbox, and more,” McNee said. “It is also notable that several other globally popular brands, such as Rolex and Linux, were also on the list of registered domains.”

The apparent oversight by Twitter/X was cause for amusement and amazement from many former users who have migrated to other social media platforms since the new CEO took over. Matthew Garrett, a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley’s School of Information, summed up the Schadenfreude thusly:

“Twitter just doing a ‘redirect links in tweets that go to x.com to twitter.com instead but accidentally do so for all domains that end x.com like eg spacex.com going to spacetwitter.com’ is not absolutely the funniest thing I could imagine but it’s high up there.”

‘The Manipulaters’ Improve Phishing, Still Fail at Opsec

Roughly nine years ago, KrebsOnSecurity profiled a Pakistan-based cybercrime group called “The Manipulaters,” a sprawling web hosting network of phishing and spam delivery platforms. In January 2024, The Manipulaters pleaded with this author to unpublish previous stories about their work, claiming the group had turned over a new leaf and gone legitimate. But new research suggests that while they have improved the quality of their products and services, these nitwits still fail spectacularly at hiding their illegal activities.

In May 2015, KrebsOnSecurity published a brief writeup about the brazen Manipulaters team, noting that they openly operated hundreds of web sites selling tools designed to trick people into giving up usernames and passwords, or deploying malicious software on their PCs.

Manipulaters advertisement for “Office 365 Private Page with Antibot” phishing kit sold on the domain heartsender,com. “Antibot” refers to functionality that attempts to evade automated detection techniques, keeping a phish deployed as long as possible. Image: DomainTools.

The core brand of The Manipulaters has long been a shared cybercriminal identity named “Saim Raza,” who for the past decade has peddled a popular spamming and phishing service variously called “Fudtools,” “Fudpage,” “Fudsender,” “FudCo,” etc. The term “FUD” in those names stands for “Fully Un-Detectable,” and it refers to cybercrime resources that will evade detection by security tools like antivirus software or anti-spam appliances.

A September 2021 story here checked in on The Manipulaters, and found that Saim Raza and company were prospering under their FudCo brands, which they secretly managed from a front company called We Code Solutions.

That piece worked backwards from all of the known Saim Raza email addresses to identify Facebook profiles for multiple We Code Solutions employees, many of whom could be seen celebrating company anniversaries gathered around a giant cake with the words “FudCo” painted in icing.

Since that story ran, KrebsOnSecurity has heard from this Saim Raza identity on two occasions. The first was in the weeks following the Sept. 2021 piece, when one of Saim Raza’s known email addresses — bluebtcus@gmail.com — pleaded to have the story taken down.

“Hello, we already leave that fud etc before year,” the Saim Raza identity wrote. “Why you post us? Why you destroy our lifes? We never harm anyone. Please remove it.”

Not wishing to be manipulated by a phishing gang, KrebsOnSecurity ignored those entreaties. But on Jan. 14, 2024, KrebsOnSecurity heard from the same bluebtcus@gmail.com address, apropos of nothing.

“Please remove this article,” Sam Raza wrote, linking to the 2021 profile. “Please already my police register case on me. I already leave everything.”

Asked to elaborate on the police investigation, Saim Raza said he was freshly released from jail.

“I was there many days,” the reply explained. “Now back after bail. Now I want to start my new work.”

Exactly what that “new work” might entail, Saim Raza wouldn’t say. But a new report from researchers at DomainTools.com finds that several computers associated with The Manipulaters have been massively hacked by malicious data- and password-snarfing malware for quite some time.

DomainTools says the malware infections on Manipulaters PCs exposed “vast swaths of account-related data along with an outline of the group’s membership, operations, and position in the broader underground economy.”

“Curiously, the large subset of identified Manipulaters customers appear to be compromised by the same stealer malware,” DomainTools wrote. “All observed customer malware infections began after the initial compromise of Manipulaters PCs, which raises a number of questions regarding the origin of those infections.”

A number of questions, indeed. The core Manipulaters product these days is a spam delivery service called HeartSender, whose homepage openly advertises phishing kits targeting users of various Internet companies, including Microsoft 365, Yahoo, AOL, Intuit, iCloud and ID.me, to name a few.

A screenshot of the homepage of HeartSender 4 displays an IP address tied to fudtoolshop@gmail.com. Image: DomainTools.

HeartSender customers can interact with the subscription service via the website, but the product appears to be far more effective and user-friendly if one downloads HeartSender as a Windows executable program. Whether that HeartSender program was somehow compromised and used to infect the service’s customers is unknown.

However, DomainTools also found the hosted version of HeartSender service leaks an extraordinary amount of user information that probably is not intended to be publicly accessible. Apparently, the HeartSender web interface has several webpages that are accessible to unauthenticated users, exposing customer credentials along with support requests to HeartSender developers.

“Ironically, the Manipulaters may create more short-term risk to their own customers than law enforcement,” DomainTools wrote. “The data table “User Feedbacks” (sic) exposes what appear to be customer authentication tokens, user identifiers, and even a customer support request that exposes root-level SMTP credentials–all visible by an unauthenticated user on a Manipulaters-controlled domain. Given the risk for abuse, this domain will not be published.”

This is hardly the first time The Manipulaters have shot themselves in the foot. In 2019, The Manipulaters failed to renew their core domain name — manipulaters[.]com — the same one tied to so many of the company’s past and current business operations. That domain was quickly scooped up by Scylla Intel, a cyber intelligence firm that focuses on connecting cybercriminals to their real-life identities.

Currently, The Manipulaters seem focused on building out and supporting HeartSender, which specializes in spam and email-to-SMS spamming services.

“The Manipulaters’ newfound interest in email-to-SMS spam could be in response to the massive increase in smishing activity impersonating the USPS,” DomainTools wrote. “Proofs posted on HeartSender’s Telegram channel contain numerous references to postal service impersonation, including proving delivery of USPS-themed phishing lures and the sale of a USPS phishing kit.”

Reached via email, the Saim Raza identity declined to respond to questions about the DomainTools findings.

“First [of] all we never work on virus or compromised computer etc,” Raza replied. “If you want to write like that fake go ahead. Second I leave country already. If someone bind anything with exe file and spread on internet its not my fault.”

Asked why they left Pakistan, Saim Raza said the authorities there just wanted to shake them down.

“After your article our police put FIR on my [identity],” Saim Raza explained. “FIR” in this case stands for “First Information Report,” which is the initial complaint in the criminal justice system of Pakistan.

“They only get money from me nothing else,” Saim Raza continued. “Now some officers ask for money again again. Brother, there is no good law in Pakistan just they need money.”

Saim Raza has a history of being slippery with the truth, so who knows whether The Manipulaters and/or its leaders have in fact fled Pakistan (it may be more of an extended vacation abroad). With any luck, these guys will soon venture into a more Western-friendly, “good law” nation and receive a warm welcome by the local authorities.

‘The Manipulaters’ Improve Phishing, Still Fail at Opsec

Roughly nine years ago, KrebsOnSecurity profiled a Pakistan-based cybercrime group called “The Manipulaters,” a sprawling web hosting network of phishing and spam delivery platforms. In January 2024, The Manipulaters pleaded with this author to unpublish previous stories about their work, claiming the group had turned over a new leaf and gone legitimate. But new research suggests that while they have improved the quality of their products and services, these nitwits still fail spectacularly at hiding their illegal activities.

In May 2015, KrebsOnSecurity published a brief writeup about the brazen Manipulaters team, noting that they openly operated hundreds of web sites selling tools designed to trick people into giving up usernames and passwords, or deploying malicious software on their PCs.

Manipulaters advertisement for “Office 365 Private Page with Antibot” phishing kit sold on the domain heartsender,com. “Antibot” refers to functionality that attempts to evade automated detection techniques, keeping a phish deployed as long as possible. Image: DomainTools.

The core brand of The Manipulaters has long been a shared cybercriminal identity named “Saim Raza,” who for the past decade has peddled a popular spamming and phishing service variously called “Fudtools,” “Fudpage,” “Fudsender,” “FudCo,” etc. The term “FUD” in those names stands for “Fully Un-Detectable,” and it refers to cybercrime resources that will evade detection by security tools like antivirus software or anti-spam appliances.

A September 2021 story here checked in on The Manipulaters, and found that Saim Raza and company were prospering under their FudCo brands, which they secretly managed from a front company called We Code Solutions.

That piece worked backwards from all of the known Saim Raza email addresses to identify Facebook profiles for multiple We Code Solutions employees, many of whom could be seen celebrating company anniversaries gathered around a giant cake with the words “FudCo” painted in icing.

Since that story ran, KrebsOnSecurity has heard from this Saim Raza identity on two occasions. The first was in the weeks following the Sept. 2021 piece, when one of Saim Raza’s known email addresses — bluebtcus@gmail.com — pleaded to have the story taken down.

“Hello, we already leave that fud etc before year,” the Saim Raza identity wrote. “Why you post us? Why you destroy our lifes? We never harm anyone. Please remove it.”

Not wishing to be manipulated by a phishing gang, KrebsOnSecurity ignored those entreaties. But on Jan. 14, 2024, KrebsOnSecurity heard from the same bluebtcus@gmail.com address, apropos of nothing.

“Please remove this article,” Sam Raza wrote, linking to the 2021 profile. “Please already my police register case on me. I already leave everything.”

Asked to elaborate on the police investigation, Saim Raza said he was freshly released from jail.

“I was there many days,” the reply explained. “Now back after bail. Now I want to start my new work.”

Exactly what that “new work” might entail, Saim Raza wouldn’t say. But a new report from researchers at DomainTools.com finds that several computers associated with The Manipulaters have been massively hacked by malicious data- and password-snarfing malware for quite some time.

DomainTools says the malware infections on Manipulaters PCs exposed “vast swaths of account-related data along with an outline of the group’s membership, operations, and position in the broader underground economy.”

“Curiously, the large subset of identified Manipulaters customers appear to be compromised by the same stealer malware,” DomainTools wrote. “All observed customer malware infections began after the initial compromise of Manipulaters PCs, which raises a number of questions regarding the origin of those infections.”

A number of questions, indeed. The core Manipulaters product these days is a spam delivery service called HeartSender, whose homepage openly advertises phishing kits targeting users of various Internet companies, including Microsoft 365, Yahoo, AOL, Intuit, iCloud and ID.me, to name a few.

A screenshot of the homepage of HeartSender 4 displays an IP address tied to fudtoolshop@gmail.com. Image: DomainTools.

HeartSender customers can interact with the subscription service via the website, but the product appears to be far more effective and user-friendly if one downloads HeartSender as a Windows executable program. Whether that HeartSender program was somehow compromised and used to infect the service’s customers is unknown.

However, DomainTools also found the hosted version of HeartSender service leaks an extraordinary amount of user information that probably is not intended to be publicly accessible. Apparently, the HeartSender web interface has several webpages that are accessible to unauthenticated users, exposing customer credentials along with support requests to HeartSender developers.

“Ironically, the Manipulaters may create more short-term risk to their own customers than law enforcement,” DomainTools wrote. “The data table “User Feedbacks” (sic) exposes what appear to be customer authentication tokens, user identifiers, and even a customer support request that exposes root-level SMTP credentials–all visible by an unauthenticated user on a Manipulaters-controlled domain. Given the risk for abuse, this domain will not be published.”

This is hardly the first time The Manipulaters have shot themselves in the foot. In 2019, The Manipulaters failed to renew their core domain name — manipulaters[.]com — the same one tied to so many of the company’s past and current business operations. That domain was quickly scooped up by Scylla Intel, a cyber intelligence firm that focuses on connecting cybercriminals to their real-life identities.

Currently, The Manipulaters seem focused on building out and supporting HeartSender, which specializes in spam and email-to-SMS spamming services.

“The Manipulaters’ newfound interest in email-to-SMS spam could be in response to the massive increase in smishing activity impersonating the USPS,” DomainTools wrote. “Proofs posted on HeartSender’s Telegram channel contain numerous references to postal service impersonation, including proving delivery of USPS-themed phishing lures and the sale of a USPS phishing kit.”

Reached via email, the Saim Raza identity declined to respond to questions about the DomainTools findings.

“First [of] all we never work on virus or compromised computer etc,” Raza replied. “If you want to write like that fake go ahead. Second I leave country already. If someone bind anything with exe file and spread on internet its not my fault.”

Asked why they left Pakistan, Saim Raza said the authorities there just wanted to shake them down.

“After your article our police put FIR on my [identity],” Saim Raza explained. “FIR” in this case stands for “First Information Report,” which is the initial complaint in the criminal justice system of Pakistan.

“They only get money from me nothing else,” Saim Raza continued. “Now some officers ask for money again again. Brother, there is no good law in Pakistan just they need money.”

Saim Raza has a history of being slippery with the truth, so who knows whether The Manipulaters and/or its leaders have in fact fled Pakistan (it may be more of an extended vacation abroad). With any luck, these guys will soon venture into a more Western-friendly, “good law” nation and receive a warm welcome by the local authorities.

The Not-so-True People-Search Network from China

It’s not unusual for the data brokers behind people-search websites to use pseudonyms in their day-to-day lives (you would, too). Some of these personal data purveyors even try to reinvent their online identities in a bid to hide their conflicts of interest. But it’s not every day you run across a US-focused people-search network based in China whose principal owners all appear to be completely fabricated identities.

Responding to a reader inquiry concerning the trustworthiness of a site called TruePeopleSearch[.]net, KrebsOnSecurity began poking around. The site offers to sell a report containing photos, police records, background checks, civil judgments, contact information “and much more!” According to LinkedIn and numerous profiles on websites that accept paid article submissions, the founder of TruePeopleSearch is Marilyn Gaskell from Phoenix, Ariz.

The saucy yet studious LinkedIn profile for Marilyn Gaskell.

Ms. Gaskell has been quoted in multiple “articles” about random subjects, such as this article at HRDailyAdvisor about the pros and cons of joining a company-led fantasy football team.

“Marilyn Gaskell, founder of TruePeopleSearch, agrees that not everyone in the office is likely to be a football fan and might feel intimidated by joining a company league or left out if they don’t join; however, her company looked for ways to make the activity more inclusive,” this paid story notes.

Also quoted in this article is Sally Stevens, who is cited as HR Manager at FastPeopleSearch[.]io.

Sally Stevens, the phantom HR Manager for FastPeopleSearch.

“Fantasy football provides one way for employees to set aside work matters for some time and have fun,” Stevens contributed. “Employees can set a special league for themselves and regularly check and compare their scores against one another.”

Imagine that: Two different people-search companies mentioned in the same story about fantasy football. What are the odds?

Both TruePeopleSearch and FastPeopleSearch allow users to search for reports by first and last name, but proceeding to order a report prompts the visitor to purchase the file from one of several established people-finder services, including BeenVerified, Intelius, and Spokeo.

DomainTools.com shows that both TruePeopleSearch and FastPeopleSearch appeared around 2020 and were registered through Alibaba Cloud, in Beijing, China. No other information is available about these domains in their registration records, although both domains appear to use email servers based in China.

Sally Stevens’ LinkedIn profile photo is identical to a stock image titled “beautiful girl” from Adobe.com. Ms. Stevens is also quoted in a paid blog post at ecogreenequipment.com, as is Alina Clark, co-founder and marketing director of CocoDoc, an online service for editing and managing PDF documents.

The profile photo for Alina Clark is a stock photo appearing on more than 100 websites.

Scouring multiple image search sites reveals Ms. Clark’s profile photo on LinkedIn is another stock image that is currently on more than 100 different websites, including Adobe.com. Cocodoc[.]com was registered in June 2020 via Alibaba Cloud Beijing in China.

The same Alina Clark and photo materialized in a paid article at the website Ceoblognation, which in 2021 included her at #11 in a piece called “30 Entrepreneurs Describe The Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) for Their Business.” It’s also worth noting that Ms. Clark is currently listed as a “former Forbes Council member” at the media outlet Forbes.com.

Entrepreneur #6 is Stephen Curry, who is quoted as CEO of CocoSign[.]com, a website that claims to offer an “easier, quicker, safer eSignature solution for small and medium-sized businesses.” Incidentally, the same photo for Stephen Curry #6 is also used in this “article” for #22 Jake Smith, who is named as the owner of a different company.

Stephen Curry, aka Jake Smith, aka no such person.

Mr. Curry’s LinkedIn profile shows a young man seated at a table in front of a laptop, but an online image search shows this is another stock photo. Cocosign[.]com was registered in June 2020 via Alibaba Cloud Beijing. No ownership details are available in the domain registration records.

Listed at #13 in that 30 Entrepreneurs article is Eden Cheng, who is cited as co-founder of PeopleFinderFree[.]com. KrebsOnSecurity could not find a LinkedIn profile for Ms. Chen, but a search on her profile image from that Entrepreneurs article shows the same photo for sale at Shutterstock and other stock photo sites.

DomainTools says PeopleFinderFree was registered through Alibaba Cloud, Beijing. Attempts to purchase reports through PeopleFinderFree produce a notice saying the full report is only available via Spokeo.com.

Lynda Fairly is Entrepreneur #24, and she is quoted as co-founder of Numlooker[.]com, a domain registered in April 2021 through Alibaba in China. Searches for people on Numlooker forward visitors to Spokeo.

The photo next to Ms. Fairly’s quote in Entrepreneurs matches that of a LinkedIn profile for Lynda Fairly. But a search on that photo shows this same portrait has been used by many other identities and names, including a woman from the United Kingdom who’s a cancer survivor and mother of five; a licensed marriage and family therapist in Canada; a software security engineer at Quora; a journalist on Twitter/X; and a marketing expert in Canada.

Cocofinder[.]com is a people-search service that launched in Sept. 2019, through Alibaba in China. Cocofinder lists its market officer as Harriet Chan, but Ms. Chan’s LinkedIn profile is just as sparse on work history as the other people-search owners mentioned already. An image search online shows that outside of LinkedIn, the profile photo for Ms. Chan has only ever appeared in articles at pay-to-play media sites, like this one from outbackteambuilding.com.

Perhaps because Cocodoc and Cocosign both sell software services, they are actually tied to a physical presence in the real world — in Singapore (15 Scotts Rd. #03-12 15, Singapore). But it’s difficult to discern much from this address alone.

Who’s behind all this people-search chicanery? A January 2024 review of various people-search services at the website techjury.com states that Cocofinder is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a Chinese company called Shenzhen Duiyun Technology Co.

“Though it only finds results from the United States, users can choose between four main search methods,” Techjury explains. Those include people search, phone, address and email lookup. This claim is supported by a Reddit post from three years ago, wherein the Reddit user “ProtectionAdvanced” named the same Chinese company.

Is Shenzhen Duiyun Technology Co. responsible for all these phony profiles? How many more fake companies and profiles are connected to this scheme? KrebsOnSecurity found other examples that didn’t appear directly tied to other fake executives listed here, but which nevertheless are registered through Alibaba and seek to drive traffic to Spokeo and other data brokers. For example, there’s the winsome Daniela Sawyer, founder of FindPeopleFast[.]net, whose profile is flogged in paid stories at entrepreneur.org.

Google currently turns up nothing else for in a search for Shenzhen Duiyun Technology Co. Please feel free to sound off in the comments if you have any more information about this entity, such as how to contact it. Or reach out directly at krebsonsecurity @ gmail.com.

A mind map highlighting the key points of research in this story. Click to enlarge. Image: KrebsOnSecurity.com

ANALYSIS

It appears the purpose of this network is to conceal the location of people in China who are seeking to generate affiliate commissions when someone visits one of their sites and purchases a people-search report at Spokeo, for example. And it is clear that Spokeo and others have created incentives wherein anyone can effectively white-label their reports, and thereby make money brokering access to peoples’ personal information.

Spokeo’s Wikipedia page says the company was founded in 2006 by four graduates from Stanford University. Spokeo co-founder and current CEO Harrison Tang has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Intelius is owned by San Diego based PeopleConnect Inc., which also owns Classmates.com, USSearch, TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate. PeopleConnect Inc. in turn is owned by H.I.G. Capital, a $60 billion private equity firm. Requests for comment were sent to H.I.G. Capital. This story will be updated if they respond.

BeenVerified is owned by a New York City based holding company called The Lifetime Value Co., a marketing and advertising firm whose brands include PeopleLooker, NeighborWho, Ownerly, PeopleSmart, NumberGuru, and Bumper, a car history site.

Ross Cohen, chief operating officer at The Lifetime Value Co., said it’s likely the network of suspicious people-finder sites was set up by an affiliate. Cohen said Lifetime Value would investigate to determine if this particular affiliate was driving them any sign-ups.

All of the above people-search services operate similarly. When you find the person you’re looking for, you are put through a lengthy (often 10-20 minute) series of splash screens that require you to agree that these reports won’t be used for employment screening or in evaluating new tenant applications. Still more prompts ask if you are okay with seeing “potentially shocking” details about the subject of the report, including arrest histories and photos.

Only at the end of this process does the site disclose that viewing the report in question requires signing up for a monthly subscription, which is typically priced around $35. Exactly how and from where these major people-search websites are getting their consumer data — and customers — will be the subject of further reporting here.

The main reason these various people-search sites require you to affirm that you won’t use their reports for hiring or vetting potential tenants is that selling reports for those purposes would classify these firms as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and expose them to regulations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

These data brokers do not want to be treated as CRAs, and for this reason their people search reports typically don’t include detailed credit histories, financial information, or full Social Security Numbers (Radaris reports include the first six digits of one’s SSN).

But in September 2023, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate were trying to have it both ways. The FTC levied a $5.8 million penalty against the companies for allegedly acting as CRAs because they assembled and compiled information on consumers into background reports that were marketed and sold for employment and tenant screening purposes.

The FTC also found TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate deceived users about background report accuracy. The FTC alleges these companies made millions from their monthly subscriptions using push notifications and marketing emails that claimed that the subject of a background report had a criminal or arrest record, when the record was merely a traffic ticket.

The FTC said both companies deceived customers by providing “Remove” and “Flag as Inaccurate” buttons that did not work as advertised. Rather, the “Remove” button removed the disputed information only from the report as displayed to that customer; however, the same item of information remained visible to other customers who searched for the same person.

The FTC also said that when a customer flagged an item in the background report as inaccurate, the companies never took any steps to investigate those claims, to modify the reports, or to flag to other customers that the information had been disputed.

There are a growing number of online reputation management companies that offer to help customers remove their personal information from people-search sites and data broker databases. There are, no doubt, plenty of honest and well-meaning companies operating in this space, but it has been my experience that a great many people involved in that industry have a background in marketing or advertising — not privacy.

Also, some so-called data privacy companies may be wolves in sheep’s clothing. On March 14, KrebsOnSecurity published an abundance of evidence indicating that the CEO and founder of the data privacy company OneRep.com was responsible for launching dozens of people-search services over the years. OneRep still has not responded to that reporting.

Finally, some of the more popular people-search websites are notorious for ignoring requests from consumers seeking to remove their information, regardless of which reputation or removal service you use. Some force you to create an account and provide more information before you can remove your data. Even then, the information you worked hard to remove may simply reappear a few months later.

This aptly describes countless complaints lodged against the data broker and people search giant Radaris. On March 8, KrebsOnSecurity profiled the co-founders of Radaris, two Russian brothers in Massachusetts who also operate multiple Russian-language dating services and affiliate programs.

The truth is that these people-search companies will continue to thrive unless and until Congress begins to realize it’s time for some consumer privacy and data protection laws that are relevant to life in the 21st century. Duke University adjunct professor Justin Sherman says virtually all state privacy laws exempt records that might be considered “public” or “government” documents, including voting registries, property filings, marriage certificates, motor vehicle records, criminal records, court documents, death records, professional licenses, bankruptcy filings, and more.

“Consumer privacy laws in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia all contain highly similar or completely identical carve-outs for ‘publicly available information’ or government records,” Sherman said.

The Not-so-True People-Search Network from China

It’s not unusual for the data brokers behind people-search websites to use pseudonyms in their day-to-day lives (you would, too). Some of these personal data purveyors even try to reinvent their online identities in a bid to hide their conflicts of interest. But it’s not every day you run across a US-focused people-search network based in China whose principal owners all appear to be completely fabricated identities.

Responding to a reader inquiry concerning the trustworthiness of a site called TruePeopleSearch[.]net, KrebsOnSecurity began poking around. The site offers to sell a report containing photos, police records, background checks, civil judgments, contact information “and much more!” According to LinkedIn and numerous profiles on websites that accept paid article submissions, the founder of TruePeopleSearch is Marilyn Gaskell from Phoenix, Ariz.

The saucy yet studious LinkedIn profile for Marilyn Gaskell.

Ms. Gaskell has been quoted in multiple “articles” about random subjects, such as this article at HRDailyAdvisor about the pros and cons of joining a company-led fantasy football team.

“Marilyn Gaskell, founder of TruePeopleSearch, agrees that not everyone in the office is likely to be a football fan and might feel intimidated by joining a company league or left out if they don’t join; however, her company looked for ways to make the activity more inclusive,” this paid story notes.

Also quoted in this article is Sally Stevens, who is cited as HR Manager at FastPeopleSearch[.]io.

Sally Stevens, the phantom HR Manager for FastPeopleSearch.

“Fantasy football provides one way for employees to set aside work matters for some time and have fun,” Stevens contributed. “Employees can set a special league for themselves and regularly check and compare their scores against one another.”

Imagine that: Two different people-search companies mentioned in the same story about fantasy football. What are the odds?

Both TruePeopleSearch and FastPeopleSearch allow users to search for reports by first and last name, but proceeding to order a report prompts the visitor to purchase the file from one of several established people-finder services, including BeenVerified, Intelius, and Spokeo.

DomainTools.com shows that both TruePeopleSearch and FastPeopleSearch appeared around 2020 and were registered through Alibaba Cloud, in Beijing, China. No other information is available about these domains in their registration records, although both domains appear to use email servers based in China.

Sally Stevens’ LinkedIn profile photo is identical to a stock image titled “beautiful girl” from Adobe.com. Ms. Stevens is also quoted in a paid blog post at ecogreenequipment.com, as is Alina Clark, co-founder and marketing director of CocoDoc, an online service for editing and managing PDF documents.

The profile photo for Alina Clark is a stock photo appearing on more than 100 websites.

Scouring multiple image search sites reveals Ms. Clark’s profile photo on LinkedIn is another stock image that is currently on more than 100 different websites, including Adobe.com. Cocodoc[.]com was registered in June 2020 via Alibaba Cloud Beijing in China.

The same Alina Clark and photo materialized in a paid article at the website Ceoblognation, which in 2021 included her at #11 in a piece called “30 Entrepreneurs Describe The Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) for Their Business.” It’s also worth noting that Ms. Clark is currently listed as a “former Forbes Council member” at the media outlet Forbes.com.

Entrepreneur #6 is Stephen Curry, who is quoted as CEO of CocoSign[.]com, a website that claims to offer an “easier, quicker, safer eSignature solution for small and medium-sized businesses.” Incidentally, the same photo for Stephen Curry #6 is also used in this “article” for #22 Jake Smith, who is named as the owner of a different company.

Stephen Curry, aka Jake Smith, aka no such person.

Mr. Curry’s LinkedIn profile shows a young man seated at a table in front of a laptop, but an online image search shows this is another stock photo. Cocosign[.]com was registered in June 2020 via Alibaba Cloud Beijing. No ownership details are available in the domain registration records.

Listed at #13 in that 30 Entrepreneurs article is Eden Cheng, who is cited as co-founder of PeopleFinderFree[.]com. KrebsOnSecurity could not find a LinkedIn profile for Ms. Chen, but a search on her profile image from that Entrepreneurs article shows the same photo for sale at Shutterstock and other stock photo sites.

DomainTools says PeopleFinderFree was registered through Alibaba Cloud, Beijing. Attempts to purchase reports through PeopleFinderFree produce a notice saying the full report is only available via Spokeo.com.

Lynda Fairly is Entrepreneur #24, and she is quoted as co-founder of Numlooker[.]com, a domain registered in April 2021 through Alibaba in China. Searches for people on Numlooker forward visitors to Spokeo.

The photo next to Ms. Fairly’s quote in Entrepreneurs matches that of a LinkedIn profile for Lynda Fairly. But a search on that photo shows this same portrait has been used by many other identities and names, including a woman from the United Kingdom who’s a cancer survivor and mother of five; a licensed marriage and family therapist in Canada; a software security engineer at Quora; a journalist on Twitter/X; and a marketing expert in Canada.

Cocofinder[.]com is a people-search service that launched in Sept. 2019, through Alibaba in China. Cocofinder lists its market officer as Harriet Chan, but Ms. Chan’s LinkedIn profile is just as sparse on work history as the other people-search owners mentioned already. An image search online shows that outside of LinkedIn, the profile photo for Ms. Chan has only ever appeared in articles at pay-to-play media sites, like this one from outbackteambuilding.com.

Perhaps because Cocodoc and Cocosign both sell software services, they are actually tied to a physical presence in the real world — in Singapore (15 Scotts Rd. #03-12 15, Singapore). But it’s difficult to discern much from this address alone.

Who’s behind all this people-search chicanery? A January 2024 review of various people-search services at the website techjury.com states that Cocofinder is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a Chinese company called Shenzhen Duiyun Technology Co.

“Though it only finds results from the United States, users can choose between four main search methods,” Techjury explains. Those include people search, phone, address and email lookup. This claim is supported by a Reddit post from three years ago, wherein the Reddit user “ProtectionAdvanced” named the same Chinese company.

Is Shenzhen Duiyun Technology Co. responsible for all these phony profiles? How many more fake companies and profiles are connected to this scheme? KrebsOnSecurity found other examples that didn’t appear directly tied to other fake executives listed here, but which nevertheless are registered through Alibaba and seek to drive traffic to Spokeo and other data brokers. For example, there’s the winsome Daniela Sawyer, founder of FindPeopleFast[.]net, whose profile is flogged in paid stories at entrepreneur.org.

Google currently turns up nothing else for in a search for Shenzhen Duiyun Technology Co. Please feel free to sound off in the comments if you have any more information about this entity, such as how to contact it. Or reach out directly at krebsonsecurity @ gmail.com.

A mind map highlighting the key points of research in this story. Click to enlarge. Image: KrebsOnSecurity.com

ANALYSIS

It appears the purpose of this network is to conceal the location of people in China who are seeking to generate affiliate commissions when someone visits one of their sites and purchases a people-search report at Spokeo, for example. And it is clear that Spokeo and others have created incentives wherein anyone can effectively white-label their reports, and thereby make money brokering access to peoples’ personal information.

Spokeo’s Wikipedia page says the company was founded in 2006 by four graduates from Stanford University. Spokeo co-founder and current CEO Harrison Tang has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Intelius is owned by San Diego based PeopleConnect Inc., which also owns Classmates.com, USSearch, TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate. PeopleConnect Inc. in turn is owned by H.I.G. Capital, a $60 billion private equity firm. Requests for comment were sent to H.I.G. Capital. This story will be updated if they respond.

BeenVerified is owned by a New York City based holding company called The Lifetime Value Co., a marketing and advertising firm whose brands include PeopleLooker, NeighborWho, Ownerly, PeopleSmart, NumberGuru, and Bumper, a car history site.

Ross Cohen, chief operating officer at The Lifetime Value Co., said it’s likely the network of suspicious people-finder sites was set up by an affiliate. Cohen said Lifetime Value would investigate to determine if this particular affiliate was driving them any sign-ups.

All of the above people-search services operate similarly. When you find the person you’re looking for, you are put through a lengthy (often 10-20 minute) series of splash screens that require you to agree that these reports won’t be used for employment screening or in evaluating new tenant applications. Still more prompts ask if you are okay with seeing “potentially shocking” details about the subject of the report, including arrest histories and photos.

Only at the end of this process does the site disclose that viewing the report in question requires signing up for a monthly subscription, which is typically priced around $35. Exactly how and from where these major people-search websites are getting their consumer data — and customers — will be the subject of further reporting here.

The main reason these various people-search sites require you to affirm that you won’t use their reports for hiring or vetting potential tenants is that selling reports for those purposes would classify these firms as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and expose them to regulations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

These data brokers do not want to be treated as CRAs, and for this reason their people search reports typically don’t include detailed credit histories, financial information, or full Social Security Numbers (Radaris reports include the first six digits of one’s SSN).

But in September 2023, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate were trying to have it both ways. The FTC levied a $5.8 million penalty against the companies for allegedly acting as CRAs because they assembled and compiled information on consumers into background reports that were marketed and sold for employment and tenant screening purposes.

The FTC also found TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate deceived users about background report accuracy. The FTC alleges these companies made millions from their monthly subscriptions using push notifications and marketing emails that claimed that the subject of a background report had a criminal or arrest record, when the record was merely a traffic ticket.

The FTC said both companies deceived customers by providing “Remove” and “Flag as Inaccurate” buttons that did not work as advertised. Rather, the “Remove” button removed the disputed information only from the report as displayed to that customer; however, the same item of information remained visible to other customers who searched for the same person.

The FTC also said that when a customer flagged an item in the background report as inaccurate, the companies never took any steps to investigate those claims, to modify the reports, or to flag to other customers that the information had been disputed.

There are a growing number of online reputation management companies that offer to help customers remove their personal information from people-search sites and data broker databases. There are, no doubt, plenty of honest and well-meaning companies operating in this space, but it has been my experience that a great many people involved in that industry have a background in marketing or advertising — not privacy.

Also, some so-called data privacy companies may be wolves in sheep’s clothing. On March 14, KrebsOnSecurity published an abundance of evidence indicating that the CEO and founder of the data privacy company OneRep.com was responsible for launching dozens of people-search services over the years. OneRep still has not responded to that reporting.

Finally, some of the more popular people-search websites are notorious for ignoring requests from consumers seeking to remove their information, regardless of which reputation or removal service you use. Some force you to create an account and provide more information before you can remove your data. Even then, the information you worked hard to remove may simply reappear a few months later.

This aptly describes countless complaints lodged against the data broker and people search giant Radaris. On March 8, KrebsOnSecurity profiled the co-founders of Radaris, two Russian brothers in Massachusetts who also operate multiple Russian-language dating services and affiliate programs.

The truth is that these people-search companies will continue to thrive unless and until Congress begins to realize it’s time for some consumer privacy and data protection laws that are relevant to life in the 21st century. Duke University adjunct professor Justin Sherman says virtually all state privacy laws exempt records that might be considered “public” or “government” documents, including voting registries, property filings, marriage certificates, motor vehicle records, criminal records, court documents, death records, professional licenses, bankruptcy filings, and more.

“Consumer privacy laws in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia all contain highly similar or completely identical carve-outs for ‘publicly available information’ or government records,” Sherman said.

From Cybercrime Saul Goodman to the Russian GRU

In 2021, the exclusive Russian cybercrime forum Mazafaka was hacked. The leaked user database shows one of the forum’s founders was an attorney who advised Russia’s top hackers on the legal risks of their work, and what to do if they got caught. A review of this user’s hacker identities shows that during his time on the forums he served as an officer in the special forces of the GRU, the foreign military intelligence agency of the Russian Federation.

Launched in 2001 under the tagline “Network terrorism,” Mazafaka would evolve into one of the most guarded Russian-language cybercrime communities. The forum’s member roster includes a Who’s Who of top Russian cybercriminals, and it featured sub-forums for a wide range of cybercrime specialities, including malware, spam, coding and identity theft.

One representation of the leaked Mazafaka database.

In almost any database leak, the first accounts listed are usually the administrators and early core members. But the Mazafaka user information posted online was not a database file per se, and it was clearly edited, redacted and restructured by whoever released it. As a result, it can be difficult to tell which members are the earliest users.

The original Mazafaka is known to have been launched by a hacker using the nickname “Stalker.” However, the lowest numbered (non-admin) user ID in the Mazafaka database belongs to another individual who used the handle “Djamix,” and the email address djamix@mazafaka[.]ru.

From the forum’s inception until around 2008, Djamix was one of its most active and eloquent contributors. Djamix told forum members he was a lawyer, and nearly all of his posts included legal analyses of various public cases involving hackers arrested and charged with cybercrimes in Russia and abroad.

“Hiding with purely technical parameters will not help in a serious matter,” Djamix advised Maza members in September 2007. “In order to ESCAPE the law, you need to KNOW the law. This is the most important thing. Technical capabilities cannot overcome intelligence and cunning.”

Stalker himself credited Djamix with keeping Mazafaka online for so many years. In a retrospective post published to Livejournal in 2014 titled, “Mazafaka, from conception to the present day,” Stalker said Djamix had become a core member of the community.

“This guy is everywhere,” Stalker said of Djamix. “There’s not a thing on [Mazafaka] that he doesn’t take part in. For me, he is a stimulus-irritant and thanks to him, Maza is still alive. Our rallying force!”

Djamix told other forum denizens he was a licensed attorney who could be hired for remote or in-person consultations, and his posts on Mazafaka and other Russian boards show several hackers facing legal jeopardy likely took him up on this offer.

“I have the right to represent your interests in court,” Djamix said on the Russian-language cybercrime forum Verified in Jan. 2011. “Remotely (in the form of constant support and consultations), or in person – this is discussed separately. As well as the cost of my services.”

WHO IS DJAMIX?

A search on djamix@mazafaka[.]ru at DomainTools.com reveals this address has been used to register at least 10 domain names since 2008. Those include several websites about life in and around Sochi, Russia, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, as well as a nearby coastal town called Adler. All of those sites say they were registered to an Aleksei Safronov from Sochi who also lists Adler as a hometown.

The breach tracking service Constella Intelligence finds that the phone number associated with those domains — +7.9676442212 — is tied to a Facebook account for an Aleksei Valerievich Safronov from Sochi. Mr. Safronov’s Facebook profile, which was last updated in October 2022, says his ICQ instant messenger number is 53765. This is the same ICQ number assigned to Djamix in the Mazafaka user database.

The Facebook account for Aleksey Safronov.

A “Djamix” account on the forum privetsochi[.]ru (“Hello Sochi”) says this user was born Oct. 2, 1970, and that his website is uposter[.]ru. This Russian language news site’s tagline is, “We Create Communication,” and it focuses heavily on news about Sochi, Adler, Russia and the war in Ukraine, with a strong pro-Kremlin bent.

Safronov’s Facebook profile also gives his Skype username as “Djamixadler,” and it includes dozens of photos of him dressed in military fatigues along with a regiment of soldiers deploying in fairly remote areas of Russia. Some of those photos date back to 2008.

In several of the images, we can see a patch on the arm of Safronov’s jacket that bears the logo of the Spetsnaz GRU, a special forces unit of the Russian military. According to a 2020 report from the Congressional Research Service, the GRU operates both as an intelligence agency — collecting human, cyber, and signals intelligence — and as a military organization responsible for battlefield reconnaissance and the operation of Russia’s Spetsnaz military commando units.

Mr. Safronov posted this image of himself on Facebook in 2016. The insignia of the GRU can be seen on his sleeve.

“In recent years, reports have linked the GRU to some of Russia’s most aggressive and public intelligence operations,” the CRS report explains. “Reportedly, the GRU played a key role in Russia’s occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and invasion of eastern Ukraine, the attempted assassination of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom, interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, disinformation and propaganda operations, and some of the world’s most damaging cyberattacks.”

According to the Russia-focused investigative news outlet Meduza, in 2014 the Russian Defense Ministry created its “information-operation troops” for action in “cyber-confrontations with potential adversaries.”

“Later, sources in the Defense Ministry explained that these new troops were meant to ‘disrupt the potential adversary’s information networks,'” Meduza reported in 2018. “Recruiters reportedly went looking for ‘hackers who have had problems with the law.'”

Mr. Safronov did not respond to multiple requests for comment. A 2018 treatise written by Aleksei Valerievich Safronov titled “One Hundred Years of GRU Military Intelligence” explains the significance of the bat in the seal of the GRU.

“One way or another, the bat is an emblem that unites all active and retired intelligence officers; it is a symbol of unity and exclusivity,” Safronov wrote. “And, in general, it doesn’t matter who we’re talking about – a secret GRU agent somewhere in the army or a sniper in any of the special forces brigades. They all did and are doing one very important and responsible thing.”

It’s unclear what role Mr. Safronov plays or played in the GRU, but it seems likely the military intelligence agency would have exploited his considerable technical skills, knowledge and connections on the Russian cybercrime forums.

Searching on Safronov’s domain uposter[.]ru in Constella Intelligence reveals that this domain was used in 2022 to register an account at a popular Spanish-language discussion forum dedicated to helping applicants prepare for a career in the Guardia Civil, one of Spain’s two national police forces. Pivoting on that Russian IP in Constella shows three other accounts were created at the same Spanish user forum around the same date.

Mark Rasch, a former cybercrime prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, said there has always been a close relationship between the GRU and the Russian hacker community. Rasch noted that in the early 2000s, the GRU was soliciting hackers with the skills necessary to hack US banks in order to procure funds to help finance Russia’s war in Chechnya.

“The guy is heavily hooked into the Russian cyber community, and that’s useful for intelligence services,” Rasch said. “He could have been infiltrating the community to monitor it for the GRU. Or he could just be a guy wearing a military uniform.”

E-Crime Rapper ‘Punchmade Dev’ Debuts Card Shop

The rapper and social media personality Punchmade Dev is perhaps best known for his flashy videos singing the praises of a cybercrime lifestyle. With memorable hits such as “Internet Swiping” and “Million Dollar Criminal” earning millions of views, Punchmade has leveraged his considerable following to peddle tutorials on how to commit financial crimes online. But until recently, there wasn’t much to support a conclusion that Punchmade was actually doing the cybercrime things he promotes in his songs.

Images from Punchmade Dev’s Twitter/X account show him displaying bags of cash and wearing a functional diamond-crusted payment card skimmer.

Punchmade Dev’s most controversial mix — a rap called “Wire Fraud Tutorial” — was taken down by Youtube last summer for violating the site’s rules. Punchmade shared on social media that the video’s removal was prompted by YouTube receiving a legal process request from law enforcement officials.

The 24-year-old rapper told reporters he wasn’t instructing people how to conduct wire fraud, but instead informing his fans on how to avoid being victims of wire fraud. However, this is difficult to discern from listening to the song, which sounds very much like a step-by-step tutorial on how to commit wire fraud.

“Listen up, I’m finna show y’all how to hit a bank,” Wire Fraud Tutorial begins. “Just pay attention, this is a quick way to jug in any state. First you wanna get a bank log from a trusted site. Do your research because the information must be right.”

And even though we’re talking about an individual who regularly appears in videos wearing a half-million dollars worth of custom jewelry draped around his arm and neck (including the functional diamond-encrusted payment card skimming device pictured above), there’s never been much evidence that Punchmade was actually involved in committing cybercrimes himself. Even his most vocal critics acknowledged that the whole persona could just be savvy marketing.

That changed recently when Punchmade’s various video and social media accounts began promoting a new web shop that is selling stolen payment cards and identity data, as well as hacked financial accounts and software for producing counterfeit checks.

Punchmade Dev's shop.

Punchmade Dev’s shop.

The official Punchmadedev account on Instagram links to many of the aforementioned rap videos and tutorials on cybercriming, as well as to Punchmadedev’s other profiles and websites. Among them is mainpage[.]me/punchmade, which includes the following information for “Punchmade Empire ®

-212,961 subscribers

#1 source on Telegram

Contact: @whopunchmade

24/7 shop: https://punchmade[.]atshop[.]io

Visiting that @whopunchmade Telegram channel shows this user is promoting punchmade[.]atshop[.]io, which is currently selling hacked bank accounts and payment cards with high balances.

Clicking “purchase” on the C@sh App offering, for example, shows that for $80 the buyer will receive logins to Cash App accounts with balances between $3,000 and $5,000. “If you buy this item you’ll get my full support on discord/telegram if there is a problem!,” the site promises. Purchases can be made in cryptocurrencies, and checking out prompts one to continue payment at Coinbase.com.

Another item for sale, “Fullz + Linkable CC,” promises “ID Front + Back, SSN with 700+ Credit Score, and Linkable CC” or credit card. That also can be had for $80 in crypto.

WHO IS PUNCHMADE DEV?

Punchmade has fashioned his public persona around a collection of custom-made, diamond-covered necklaces that are as outlandish and gaudy as they are revelatory. My favorite shot from one of Punchmade’s videos features at least three of these monstrosities: One appears to be a boring old diamond and gold covered bitcoin, but the other two necklaces tell us something about where Punchmade is from:

Notice the University of Kentucky logo, and the Lexington, Ky skyline.

One of them includes the logo and mascot of the University of Kentucky. The other, an enormous diamond studded skyline, appears to have been designed based on the skyline in Lexington, Ky:

The “About” page on Punchmade Dev’s Spotify profile describes him as “an American artist, rapper, musician, producer, director, entrepreneur, actor and investor.” “Punchmade Dev is best known for his creative ways to use technology, video gaming, and social media to build a fan base,” the profile continues.

The profile explains that he launched his own record label in 2021 called Punchmade Records, where he produces his own instrumentals and edits his own music videos.

A search on companies that include the name “punchmade” at the website of the Kentucky Secretary of State brings up just one record: OBN Group LLC, in Lexington, Ky. This November 2021 record includes a Certificate of Assumed Name, which shows that Punchmade LLC is the assumed name of OBN Group LLC.

The president of OBN Group LLC is listed as Devon Turner. A search on the Secretary of State website for other businesses tied to Devon Turner reveals just one other record: A now-defunct entity called DevTakeFlightBeats Inc.

The breach tracking service Constella Intelligence finds that Devon Turner from Lexington, Ky. used the email address obndevpayments@gmail.com. A lookup on this email at DomainTools.com shows it was used to register the domain foreverpunchmade[.]com, which is registered to a Devon Turner in Lexington, Ky. A copy of this site at archive.org indicates it once sold Punchmade Dev-branded t-shirts and other merchandise.

Mr. Turner did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Searching online for Devon Turner and “Punchmade” brings up a video from @brainjuiceofficial, a YouTube channel that focuses on social media celebrities. @Brainjuiceofficial says Turner was born in October 2000, the oldest child of a single mother of five whose husband was not in the picture.

Devon Turner, a.k.a. “Punchmade Dev,” in an undated photo.

The video says the six-foot five Turner played basketball, track and football in high school, but that he gradually became obsessed with playing the video game NBA 2K17 and building a following of people watching him play the game competitively online.

According to this brief documentary, Turner previously streamed his NBA 2K17 videos on a YouTube channel called DevTakeFlight, although he originally went by the nickname OBN Dev.

“Things may eventually catch up to Devon if he isn’t careful,” @Brainjuiceofficial observed, noting that Turner has been shot at before, and also robbed at an ATM while flexing a bunch of cash for a picture and wearing $500k in jewelry. “Although you have a lot of people that are into what you do, there are a lot of people waiting for you to slip up.”

E-Crime Rapper ‘Punchmade Dev’ Debuts Card Shop

The rapper and social media personality Punchmade Dev is perhaps best known for his flashy videos singing the praises of a cybercrime lifestyle. With memorable hits such as “Internet Swiping” and “Million Dollar Criminal” earning millions of views, Punchmade has leveraged his considerable following to peddle tutorials on how to commit financial crimes online. But until recently, there wasn’t much to support a conclusion that Punchmade was actually doing the cybercrime things he promotes in his songs.

Images from Punchmade Dev’s Twitter/X account show him displaying bags of cash and wearing a functional diamond-crusted payment card skimmer.

Punchmade Dev’s most controversial mix — a rap called “Wire Fraud Tutorial” — was taken down by Youtube last summer for violating the site’s rules. Punchmade shared on social media that the video’s removal was prompted by YouTube receiving a legal process request from law enforcement officials.

The 24-year-old rapper told reporters he wasn’t instructing people how to conduct wire fraud, but instead informing his fans on how to avoid being victims of wire fraud. However, this is difficult to discern from listening to the song, which sounds very much like a step-by-step tutorial on how to commit wire fraud.

“Listen up, I’m finna show y’all how to hit a bank,” Wire Fraud Tutorial begins. “Just pay attention, this is a quick way to jug in any state. First you wanna get a bank log from a trusted site. Do your research because the information must be right.”

And even though we’re talking about an individual who regularly appears in videos wearing a half-million dollars worth of custom jewelry draped around his arm and neck (including the functional diamond-encrusted payment card skimming device pictured above), there’s never been much evidence that Punchmade was actually involved in committing cybercrimes himself. Even his most vocal critics acknowledged that the whole persona could just be savvy marketing.

That changed recently when Punchmade’s various video and social media accounts began promoting a new web shop that is selling stolen payment cards and identity data, as well as hacked financial accounts and software for producing counterfeit checks.

Punchmade Dev's shop.

Punchmade Dev’s shop.

The official Punchmadedev account on Instagram links to many of the aforementioned rap videos and tutorials on cybercriming, as well as to Punchmadedev’s other profiles and websites. Among them is mainpage[.]me/punchmade, which includes the following information for “Punchmade Empire ®

-212,961 subscribers

#1 source on Telegram

Contact: @whopunchmade

24/7 shop: https://punchmade[.]atshop[.]io

Visiting that @whopunchmade Telegram channel shows this user is promoting punchmade[.]atshop[.]io, which is currently selling hacked bank accounts and payment cards with high balances.

Clicking “purchase” on the C@sh App offering, for example, shows that for $80 the buyer will receive logins to Cash App accounts with balances between $3,000 and $5,000. “If you buy this item you’ll get my full support on discord/telegram if there is a problem!,” the site promises. Purchases can be made in cryptocurrencies, and checking out prompts one to continue payment at Coinbase.com.

Another item for sale, “Fullz + Linkable CC,” promises “ID Front + Back, SSN with 700+ Credit Score, and Linkable CC” or credit card. That also can be had for $80 in crypto.

WHO IS PUNCHMADE DEV?

Punchmade has fashioned his public persona around a collection of custom-made, diamond-covered necklaces that are as outlandish and gaudy as they are revelatory. My favorite shot from one of Punchmade’s videos features at least three of these monstrosities: One appears to be a boring old diamond and gold covered bitcoin, but the other two necklaces tell us something about where Punchmade is from:

Notice the University of Kentucky logo, and the Lexington, Ky skyline.

One of them includes the logo and mascot of the University of Kentucky. The other, an enormous diamond studded skyline, appears to have been designed based on the skyline in Lexington, Ky:

The “About” page on Punchmade Dev’s Spotify profile describes him as “an American artist, rapper, musician, producer, director, entrepreneur, actor and investor.” “Punchmade Dev is best known for his creative ways to use technology, video gaming, and social media to build a fan base,” the profile continues.

The profile explains that he launched his own record label in 2021 called Punchmade Records, where he produces his own instrumentals and edits his own music videos.

A search on companies that include the name “punchmade” at the website of the Kentucky Secretary of State brings up just one record: OBN Group LLC, in Lexington, Ky. This November 2021 record includes a Certificate of Assumed Name, which shows that Punchmade LLC is the assumed name of OBN Group LLC.

The president of OBN Group LLC is listed as Devon Turner. A search on the Secretary of State website for other businesses tied to Devon Turner reveals just one other record: A now-defunct entity called DevTakeFlightBeats Inc.

The breach tracking service Constella Intelligence finds that Devon Turner from Lexington, Ky. used the email address obndevpayments@gmail.com. A lookup on this email at DomainTools.com shows it was used to register the domain foreverpunchmade[.]com, which is registered to a Devon Turner in Lexington, Ky. A copy of this site at archive.org indicates it once sold Punchmade Dev-branded t-shirts and other merchandise.

Mr. Turner did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Searching online for Devon Turner and “Punchmade” brings up a video from @brainjuiceofficial, a YouTube channel that focuses on social media celebrities. @Brainjuiceofficial says Turner was born in October 2000, the oldest child of a single mother of five whose husband was not in the picture.

Devon Turner, a.k.a. “Punchmade Dev,” in an undated photo.

The video says the six-foot five Turner played basketball, track and football in high school, but that he gradually became obsessed with playing the video game NBA 2K17 and building a following of people watching him play the game competitively online.

According to this brief documentary, Turner previously streamed his NBA 2K17 videos on a YouTube channel called DevTakeFlight, although he originally went by the nickname OBN Dev.

“Things may eventually catch up to Devon if he isn’t careful,” @Brainjuiceofficial observed, noting that Turner has been shot at before, and also robbed at an ATM while flexing a bunch of cash for a picture and wearing $500k in jewelry. “Although you have a lot of people that are into what you do, there are a lot of people waiting for you to slip up.”