Online Scams: Puppies for Sale or Are They? Probably not! Buyer Beware & Read This before buying a Puppy Online.

Email Address: Your Internet Driver’s License

First things first. We all need an email address in order to do anything meaningful on the the web. You do and the bad guys do too! I would go as far to say that an email address closest thing we have to a driver’s license on the internet today. Without an email address, you are on a read only version of the internet with no way to interact with with world.

By Federal law, you’re not allowed to have an email address until you’re at least 13 years old. This is specified in the FCC’s Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). I often have to advise my clients on these types of issues when deciding who can legally register on a website.

An email address allows you to register on websites by validating your email address. An email address / IP address combo is the easiest and most cost effective way to provide a first pass at knowing who your customers are online.

At least we are supposed to expect that they are at least 13 years old because Google and Yahoo must check this for every email account, right? LOL! This will be important to the story below.

Blue French Bulldog Puppies For Sale or Are They?

First off, let me start by saying you should read this article which is a case study on the Anatomy of a Puppy Scam by Rae Wondersmith. A great primer on the subject!

Next, I will be hiding identity of the suspected scammer while disclosing enough details to be helpful in the analysis of the individual and the patterns observed.

The data I’m sharing comes from anti-fraud systems I’ve designed that are working in production on what I’m hoping will eventually become a popular website for local classified advertising. Maybe I’ll reveal the name of the site at the end of this article.

Blue French Bulldog  Puppies for Sale

Pic of Puppies uploaded by the Scammer

On 11/30/2020 a suspected Puppy Ad Scammer created four (4) accounts in four (4) different cities in a very short period of time.

Three of the accounts came from one ComCast Cable IP in Salem Oregon which matched one of the advertisements which did not raise a red flag initially.

They kept creating new accounts for various cities and creating a single ad for the same dog breed for each account. They targeted Salem Oregon, Kalamazoo, Boston and Lansing.

Then they posted again but IP switched from Oregon Comcast to Verizon Fios in Virginia but anti-fraud tools I built help me see it is indeed the same person registering again from same browser even though the IP had changed. I’m not sure if they are using some sort of VPN to shift the IP / Location.

I know it says “Email NOT VERIFIED” in the screenshots below but they are. I had added an email ban to the system and it reflects back on this view as NOT VERIFIED but they were. The email verification process data sits in its own database table. I collect the IP addresses from the user at start and finish of the email validation process.

I can also see the email exchange in the email server logs files which I also check daily. All of this data can be verified by looking at several system logs.

Connecting Accounts Created by Same Person on Earlier Sessions

Going back thru recent account creations I see another account matching one of the scammers email.

Observations & Fraud Patterns

Broken English or poor grammar.

Example: Breath Taken Blue French Bulldog Puppies Ready Now To GO

Notice poor grammar of Breath Taking as Breath Taken there are other examples through out the text

Phone numbers used

240 Maryland Area code in the phone number used and same phone number using in most of the ads.

Phone number was not used on all of the ads posted by this scammer

Unique Account details repeated

Same password was used on all of the accounts!

This is proprietary but yes, all accounts used the same password.

More Analysis

So far this is what I think I have and is subject to change if new data overrides this.

  • User is probably not native English speaker but may be located physically inside the US.
  • Has methods to change IP via VPN or access to computers in those cities via nefarious methods (hack) in order to hide their real IP address.
  • Its is very easy to create email accounts. This person has many email addresses and personas ready to use or creates them easily and often.
  • Only targeted one breed so far

Raw Data for Analysts

In order to help analysts and law enforcement, below are the actual ad text used in the scam advertisements.

Scam Ad for Puppies #1

Much love we have for them, we are really proud to find them a good pet loving home where they will be spoiled with much love and care. they are home raised, well fed, vet checked, vaccinated and had their first shots, update on shot and dewormed, all in good health and will come with paper we have 240) 242-7140

Suspected Scammer using email address marksmille56@gmail.com for ad posted in Kalamazoo.

Scam Ad for Puppies #2

Akc registered frenchie puppies ready for x-mas ! all shots are up to date. They have already taken flea and tick dose. They have beautiful coatings, are strong,text me (240) 242-7140 for more info

Suspected scammer using email address louisesteel259@gmail.com from ad posted in Boston Mass.

Scam Ad for Puppies #3

We are proud to find a good pet loving home for our cuties. We have lovely, young, pretty healthy males and females available now for a new home. they are home raised, well fed, vet checked, vaccinated and had their first shots, update on shot and dewormed, all in good health and will come with papers. you can contact now for more details

Suspect scammer using email address randyruy71@gmail.com from ad posted in Oregon City, Oregon.

Conclusion

The internet is still the wild wild west and most people don’t understand how it works or how the bad guys use it to take advantage of us.

The above example shows just how hard it is for anyone trying to validate and vet an online user as they create multiple accounts and post data.

I hope the information I’ve provided on this subject is helpful in any research you may be doing on the subject as I expect those would be the only people reading the article down this far.

~Cheers & Happy Hunting!

~Cyber Abyss

How to Hide Executable Code in a Text File using Cloaking and Alternative Data Streams

Hacker Basics: How to Hide an Executable File Inside and Text File

Did you know that hackers can hide an executable file inside of a text file using a technique that uses something called data streams to trick a computer system from seeing text and or executable written in an alternate data stream inside a common text file.

I was pretty impressed the first time I watched someone demonstrate this. I was like, NO WAY! I really thought that this was some wizard level hacker stuff.

I’m no wizard level hacker, although I aspire to be, but I should be good enough to show you how to embed a simple calculator app inside a text file using an alternate data stream.

A big thank you to Cyber Security Expert, Malcolm Shore who presented a similar example in his Cyber Security Foundation online course I recently completed.

How Do Alternate Data Streams Work?

Way back in the old Wild West days when we had the DOS operating system, files used to be simple strings of data. Files are read btye by byte.

Later, in the NTFS file system, files are complex structures. NTFS files at a minimum contain a section called $Data where data is read by an application. $Data is the Data Stream.

Files may have many other sections or streams other than just the $Data section. This is what we call “Alternate Streams”.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Windows only recognizes data in the $Data section so any data we put in an alternate data stream is not read by the Windows Operating System. We cloak data we want to hide in an alternate data stream. That’s the basics of how this works.

The data we are hiding could be a malicious malware payload or encrypted espionage message for our spy ring but in this example, it is just the simple calc.exe file you can find on any Windows PC for the last 20+ years.

Creating an Alternate Data Stream in a Text File

The screenshot below shows the three (3) files we’ll be using in this demonstration.

  • Simple text file with some string data.
  • calc.exe application or executable binary file
  • Secret text file with some string data

We can see the size of the text file is just 1 KB and the calc.exe file is 897 KB.

If we open the text-data.txt file with Notepad we’ll see just a simple line of text and the same with the secret-data.txt file.

To hide our secret message inside the the text data file, we’ll use this command line command.

C:\text\>type secret-data.txt > text-data.text:hidden.text

Screenshot of Alternate Data Stream: Insert Hidden Text

Below is a screenshot of the command line command “type” that we used in this example to insert our secret-data.txt file into an Alternate Data Stream inside of another text file.

If we type the command “more” we can look for the secret message.

The screenshot below shows the text file that contains our hidden text being opened in Notepad where we can’t see the hidden text we saved to the file. If we type the command line command below, we can read the hidden text we wrote to our Alternate Data Stream by keying in on the specific data stream.

c:\test>more < text-data.txt:hidden:text

Hiding an Executable Inside a Text File

Hiding an executable file inside a text file using the exact same Alternate Data Stream technique we just used in the the Secret text file example above but this time we’ll simply replace the Secret text file with the Windows Calculator application executable file.

The screenshot below shows the command line command to save the calc.exe file in an Alternate Data Stream in side our target text file.

Notice this time, the Alternate Data Stream is named “mycalc.exe”. Don’t get to hung up on this, it is just a name that is basically meta data that is saved with the data that we can use to filter the data we get out of the file. I hope that makes sense.

Important to note at this point that the file sizes didn’t change when we inserted the calc.exe file. It is still showing 52KB.

How to Execute a File Saved in an Alternate Data Stream

To execute a file you’ve stored in an Alternate Data Stream, we’ll need to use the wmic command as is done in the following example.

c:\test>wmic process call "c:\test\text-data.txt:mycalc.exe"

As you can see from the working example above, I was able to embed the calc.exe file inside as well as text file and a secret message.

If the data is text we just need to indicate which stream we saved the data in to retrieve it.

If the data we hid was an executable file, we’ll need to use the Windows “wmic” command line command to call the executable from inside the text file by keying in on the Alternate Data Stream name.

In summary, the technique is crazy easy to pull off without any 3rd party hacking tools. It just requires a little Windows Operating System inside knowledge but is something every good hacker should know.

I hope this helped somebody!
~Cyber Abyss