A Ukrainian national who co-founded the infamous cybercrime marketplace CarderPlanet has been jailed for 18 years following a lengthy US legal process that ran for more than a decade.
Roman Vega, 49, eventually pleaded guilty in 2009 to conspiracy to commit money laundering and access device fraud offences – but he was only sentenced by a New York court on Thursday.
Vega, who went by various online pseudonyms including “Boa,” “Roman Stepanenko,” “Randy Riolta,” and “RioRita,” formed two online marketplaces for stolen credit card information. He started off with the Boa Factory in the late 90s, one of the earliest websites on the Internet to provide a forum for buyers and sellers of stolen credit card information.
In the early 2000s, he co-founded and became a high-ranking administrator of a second and more ambitious criminal website, CarderPlane. This Russian-language site quickly became one of the busiest online marketplaces for the sale of stolen financial information, computer hacking services, and money laundering.
At its peak, CarderPlanet had more than 6,000 members. It leadership structure borrowed the titles and styles from the mafia. For example, CarderPlanet was headed by a “Godfather”, immediately below which served various “Dons,” including Vega.
Two levels below the Dons was the “Consigliere”, who served as an advisor – think Tom Hagen as played by Robert Duvall in the Godfather films. Vega, using the name “RioRita,” also served as the Consigliere.
Vega is credited with instituting a quality control system for sales through CarderPlanet that is credited with its growth. If a cyberthief wanted to sell stolen credit card information on CarderPlanet, the information was subjected to a vetting process overseen by a manager to ensure that buyers obtained usable stolen data.
In addition, the website used cyber-currencies, such as WebMoney, to provide the participants with security and the cloak of anonymity. The end result was an "efficient and reliable online marketplace for the buyers and sellers of stolen financial information not unlike legitimate e-commerce sites", a DoJ statement on the case explains.
As well as playing a key role in running CarderPlanet, Vega also sold stolen data on the marketplaces he founded and managed. "He directed cells of cybercriminals around the globe who hacked into financial institutions to steal credit card and other financial information that would in turn be sold on online marketplaces, including CarderPlanet," the DoJ adds.
Some principals of CarderPlanet were alleged to have ties with ShadowCrew, a notorious US founded clearinghouse for payment-card fraudsters, and the RBSWorldPay gang. A US Secret Service operation that led to the unravelling of both CarderPlanet and ShadowCrew led to 28 arrests in October 2004, by which time Vega had been in custody for over a year.
Vega was identified and arrested in Cyprus in February 2003 before his subsequent US extradition and prosecution. At the time of his arrest, Vega possessed over half a million stolen credit card numbers. Vega has been continuously incarcerated since 2003.
“Roman Vega and his cybercriminal associates emulated the mafia in organising their criminal operations,” stated United States Attorney Loretta Lynch. “Now, he shares the same fate as so many mafia bosses – a long term of imprisonment. This investigation spanned the globe and sends the unmistakable warning that when it comes to dismantling global cybercrime organisations, neither distance nor complexity will deter us and our partners in law enforcement.”.
The US Secret Service, assisted by the US Postal Service, led the investigation into CarderPlanet. ®