Anonymous' Robin Hood Credit Card Fraud Campaign Could Hurt More Than Just Banks

Hacktivist groups Anonymous and TeaMp0isoN have joined together in a new campaign that involves compromising credit card details and using them to donate money to charities, homeless people and anti-government protesters around the world.

The two hacker outfits, who call their alliance p0isAnon, have named the new credit card fraud campaign "Operation Robin Hood" in reference to the famous English outlaw who, according to folklore, stole money from the rich and gave it to the poor.

"Operation Robin Hood is going to return the money to those who have been cheated by our system and most importantly to those hurt by our banks," p0isAnon said in a statement released on Monday. "Operation Robin Hood will take credit cards and donate to the 99% as well as various charities around the globe," it added.

Anonymous and TeaMp0isoN claim that they've already started their campaign. "We have already taken Chase, Bank of America, and CitiBank credit cards with big breaches across the map. We have returned it to the poor (the TRUE 99%) who deserve it," the hacktivist groups said in their joint statement.

According to Amy Kornbluth, Citi's head of consumer communications for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), the company is currently looking into these claims, but doesn't have an official statement yet. Visa Europe did not respond to a request for comment.

The politically motivated hackers implied that their actions won't hurt cardholders because credit card fraud victims are generally reimbursed by banks. However, this might not be true in all cases, because the laws regulating fraud liability vary around the world.

"After 60 to 120 days of the transaction date, depending on the association and the country, both the customer and Citi do not have rights any longer to initiate a dispute," Kornbluth said. "Upon noticing a suspected fraudulent transaction the customer should report it immediately to the respective Citiphone customer service unit who will act swiftly to investigate the issue," she added.

Even if in most circumstances card holders might not be liable for costs resulting from fraudulent transactions, merchants can be. "Ultimately the money is lost by either the issuer bank or the acquirer/merchant depending on the chargeback rules and processes followed/not followed," Kornbluth said.

For example, if p0isAnon members use the stolen credit card information to buy blankets for Occupy Wall Street protesters, the affected banks could initiate chargebacks to recover the money from merchants, who could be left to cover their losses if they didn't follow all the procedures correctly.

Kornbluth confirmed that chargebacks can also be initiated for fraudulent donations. There are multiple online reports from organizations and independent software developers who received fraudulent donations and were later forced to pay chargeback fees in addition to returning the donated amounts.

PayPal offers a donation service for nonprofits, but its user agreement states that sellers don't benefit from protection if the sold item is not a physical, tangible good that can be shipped. Since a donation doesn't meet this criteria, a successful chargeback for a fraudulent transaction could end up costing a nonprofit a fee of US$20 in addition to the donated amount.

Anonymous and TeaMp0isoN are defiant when it comes to possible law enforcement actions against them resulting from this campaign. "We are not afraid of the Police, Secret Service, or the FBI," they said.

The groups also pointed out that "Operation Robin Hood" is an extension of the older "Operation Cash Back," which encouraged people to empty their bank accounts and put their money into credit unions.

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