Turning virtual cash into real money without being caught is a big problem for successful cyber-criminals.
They often have to get creative when “cashing out” or laundering the money they have stolen, according to a security expert.
Ziv Mador, head of security research at Trustwave SpiderLabs. told the BBC that credit card thieves, for example, have limited time to profit, because at some point the victim will put a stop on their card.
Tens of thousands of stolen card numbers are traded daily on the underground markets that Mr Zador and his colleagues monitor, with details taken from compromised websites or databases.
“They can try to sell the card, which is not big money because they only get a few dollars for each one,” he said.
Instead, he added, they are more likely to use them to buy more valuable assets like iPhones or Macbooks, which are popular because they tend to hold their value when resold.
“They do not buy 100 or so iPhones at once,” he said. “They use a lot of different cards at different times.”
Another “cashing out” technique uses gift cards from big retailers such as Amazon and WalMart. This technique involves buying the gift card with the stolen credit card and then offering it for sale at a big discount.
there are the more creative scams that seek to use Uber and other ride-hailing firms to launder cash. “They are looking for Uber drivers for fraudulent payments, people who can register for Uber and do fake rides,” said Mr Mador.
The driver’s account is used to launder the cash generated when stolen credit cards are used to pay for the fictitious journeys and they get a cut of the money as a payment.
It is these markets that form the backbone of the cyber-crime world, said Dr Mike McGuire, a criminologist from the University of Surrey, who has studied this shadowy community.
Some was laundered via banks and other well-established routes long used by criminal gangs, who increasingly have been finding ways to use newer technological methods.