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For 3 Years, Scammers Ran Truckless Trucking Company 244

Posted by timothy
from the trucker-in-the-middle dept.
mikesd81 writes "Wired reports Nicholas Lakes and Viachelav Berkovich are charged with computer fraud [PDF] for a man-in-the-middle attack that allegedly let them run a profitable trucking company without the hassle of driving a truck. For over three years the Russian immigrants hacked a Department of Transportation website called Safersys.org, which maintains a list of licensed interstate trucking companies and brokers. They then went on forums where brokers advertise cargo in need of transportation and negotiate a deal, for example, to transport cargo from American Canyon, California, to Jessup, Maryland, for $3,500. But instead of transporting the load, they would outsource the job to another trucking company posing as the legitimate company whose identity they'd hijacked. They would then invoice the company and take the money. When the company that owned the actual truck tried to contact the company that needed the goods delivered, they found they knew nothing about it. Over all they made nearly $500,000."
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For 3 Years, Scammers Ran Truckless Trucking Company

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  • Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheLink (130905) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:00PM (#25472421) Journal
    Sounds a bit like the music industry to me.

    When the time comes for the artists to get paid...
  • Wait... (Score:5, Funny)

    by CaptainPatent (1087643) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:01PM (#25472431) Journal
    1)Start trucking company
    2)... 3)Profit!


    So this is actually a valid business model?!?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by nomadic (141991)
      2) Subcontract the job out.

      It's actually a very common business model, in this case it's improper because of all the computer hacking and lying.
      • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Informative)

        by rugatero (1292060) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:13PM (#25472615)
        It's improper because they didn't pay the damn subcontractors. It's incredible that they sustained it for three years.
        • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by dnoyeb (547705) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:15PM (#25472637) Homepage Journal

          They were not subcontractors. The criminals were imitating contractors and taking money in their name. When the real contractors showed up, the goods were there, but the money had been paid to someone else.

          • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Informative)

            by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:27PM (#25472823) Journal

            No.

            The criminals imitated a legitimate trucking company, bid on and won loads, then subcontracted the actual hauling out to a second trucking company. When the load was delivered, the criminals would pocket the money. When the subcontractor that did the actual hauling would contact the legitimate company to get paid, the company wouldn't know anything about it because said company was impersonated by the criminals.

            The scam worked like this:
            Criminals hack into SaferSys.org and get the info of trucking company A.
            They would then go on a load board and bid on and win a load from company B.
            Then, as A they would contract trucking company C to haul the load for B
            When the load was delivered, B would pay the criminals thinking they were paying A.
            The criminals then disappear with the money.
            Meanwhile company C would contact A to get paid for actually hauling the load and A would have no idea what C was talking about.

            Got it?

            • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by inviolet (797804) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:48PM (#25473187) Journal

              Thanks for that explanation.

              Has anyone noticed that these two zeebs didn't actually earn a very good living with this scam?

              Two guys laboring for three years to produce ~$500,000... that is an annual salary of $83K apiece, which is good pay for a regular low-risk job but lousy pay for a high-risk situation like this one. And lo and behold the risk occurred and stung them both.

              The more stories like this I hear about, the more I think that most criminals work too hard for their take, and ought to reconsider.

              • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by billsnow (1334685) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @03:07PM (#25473471)
                83K per year per person is pretty lucrative for small-time criminals. They don't pay any taxes. They live in their immigrant neighborhoods, which have a low cost of living (even in cities like brooklyn). There is no such thing as high-risk to immigrant criminals, except for deportation, of course. Pretty good scam, considering they didn't need a lot of people (no credit).

                (didn't RTFA)
              • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Overzeetop (214511) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @03:11PM (#25473501) Journal

                On the contrary, where can you find a job doing anything legal which nets you $83k after taxes and lets you (a) work from home (b) not bother to work when you don't want to and (c) only requires a few hours a month (which is all they probably did). If the 83k were taxable, it would put them in the top 23% of wage earners in the US, and if you account for taxes on top of their (untaxed) 83k (i.e. payroll and income), you're solidly in the top 15% in take-home.

                Trust me, being a criminal is far less time intensive than a steady job at the same wage. Most of these guys would probably struggle to hold down a $22-30,000/yr service position in the "real world".

                Besides, now it looks like they'll get free room and board for several years.

            • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Funny)

              by guruevi (827432) <evi AT smokingcube DOT be> on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @04:03PM (#25474377) Homepage

              I don't understand. Can you repeat this with Alice, Bob, Carol and Ted?

          • Re:Wait... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Zenaku (821866) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:37PM (#25472987)

            You're incorrect. The criminals would replace the phone number of an approved contractor with their own number, and then pose as that company when the customer with goods to ship called them up to arrange a contract. They'd then turn around and, still posing as the legitimate trucking company, subcontract the job to someone else who would actually pickup the goods and deliver them.

            Thus, the customer pays the criminals to move the goods, and the criminals get the subcontractor to do it, then they just don't pay the subcontractor. If the subcontractor wants to complain, he just ends up talking to the company that the criminals were impersonating, who has not been involved at all up to that point.

            The "real contractors" never show up to ship anything -- they are just the "fall guy" who the customer and subcontractor both thought they were dealing with.

        • Re:Wait... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @06:44PM (#25476441) Homepage

          I don't find that incredible at all. I have relatives in the trucking industry (yeah go figure!).

          1. Contractors usually invoice with net-30 terms, meaning they only get paid a month after the job is done.

          2. Some jobs are paid upon project completion, which means you could be waiting 3-6 months or more.

          2. A lot of trucking/construction businesses are run by imbeciles with poor cashflow that pay late, and some of them are just assholes who pay late on purpose.

          3. A lot of companies go bankrupt (or vanish) and never pay.

          4. A large number of truckers are independent, so the bookkeeping is handled by either the guy himself or their spouse. Things fall through the cracks all the time.

          5. How many trucking companies are there in the US ? Enough that these crooks never had to use the same one twice. These contractors don't exactly communicate fraud information with each other, so you could scam N-2 companies and still find a pair of suckers.

      • by Bandman (86149)

        I was wondering what made this illegal. My bandwidth providers do this all the damned time.

        • by gnick (1211984)

          If the people taking your checks never bother to pay the people actually providing you with bandwidth, that's a perfect analogy.

          There are better explanations of the scenario than available in TFS both here [slashdot.org] and here [wired.com].

      • by ozbird (127571)
        4) Go to Jail; do not pass Go, do not collect $3500.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by MikeDirnt69 (1105185)

      1)Start trucking company 2)... 3)Profit! So this is actually a valid business model?!?

      No, and you forgot the 4th step:
      4) Get arrested!

    • by whoever57 (658626) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:39PM (#25473023) Journal

      This is just another example of how the FBI is failing the people of the USA. There is no way this should have taken 3 years to shut down.

      It's not even an example where the FBI helped a company but would not help individuals. Most (if not all) of the victims were companies.

    • Well, it sounds like it took a lot of work and brought them each about $83k/year. Honestly, that salary just doesn't seem worth the risk of running a highly-illegal scam.
  • Wait - they're already employed by someone else. And probably making comparable salaries to their BRILLIANT business scheme.
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:05PM (#25472487)
    The true middle man, Keyser Soze, gets off scot free.
  • More Info! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mikkeles (698461) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:10PM (#25472545)

    I would like to subscribe to their newsletter; does anyone know their address?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:10PM (#25472553)

    The most environmentally friendly trucking company EVER.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DaveV1.0 (203135)

      Except that it wasn't environmentally friendly because a truck still rolled with a load. The load got delivered, but the pay for the delivery was stolen. And, chances are the "company" that delivered the load and didn't get paid was an independent trucker, and loosing that money could put them out of business.

      • ...at which point there's one less truck driving around, and the environment is just a little bit happier. :-p
      • by afidel (530433)
        If your margins are so thin you can't afford to absorb one lost shipment you are already out of business and just don't know it. My dad has customers file bankruptcy on a semi-regular basis and it never puts him out of business, it's just factored into his margin. Unless you have a single customer who accounts for more than 50% of your sales (like Walmart for many companies) the loss of payment from a single source shouldn't put you out of business.
        • by DaveV1.0 (203135)

          It is part of the economic problems.

          The margins have only become that slim in the last year as the price of diesel has skyrocketed but the rate for a load has barely risen. Two years ago, something like this wouldn't put an owner/operator out of business, but between low freight pay, high fuel costs, and tight credit, something like this can be devastating for and o/o.

          • by afidel (530433)
            Yeah I was a bit wigged out by something I saw the other day, while regular gas had fallen to $2.30/gal diesel was still almost $4! Not sure why the truckers are getting shafted but at some point they need to collectively decide that their increased costs are going to get passed on because their customers have little alternative for moving their goods. That would be bad in the short term for my dad because transportation is already one of his largest costs after raw materials but he'd adjust and pass along
  • yro? (Score:4, Funny)

    by TastyCakes (917232) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:10PM (#25472557)
    What does yro mean? It has been driving me nuts...
  • by Gizzmonic (412910) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:13PM (#25472607) Homepage Journal

    Nice guys, they're very persuasive in person. Vitaly is loud, boisterous, always wants to have a good time. He wears fine suits and a lot of gold. Vlade is quieter, and he seems to have some sort of brooding intensity. He was always wearing track suits and listening to Run-DMC.

    I honestly believed that these were best guys for transporting my adult novelties across state lines. This can be illegal in some jurisdictions (like Texas) and you need someone who knows how to run an illegal business. Since they are Russian, I knew they could handle it.

    They kept telling me that the merchadise was seized at the Texas border by Davy Crockett and Ed Meese, and I believed them for a long time. Finally, after the 3rd shipment I started to suspect something. All of a sudden, the phone stopped ringing. Those Russians had played me for a fool!

    That's when I knew I had to become a symbol. A creature of the night, to frighten away criminal scum like these Russians. I prayed to Jesus, and he transformed me into...the Bat-Man!

  • by GPS Pilot (3683) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:28PM (#25472843)
    In earlier years, this kind of fraud could have been executed over the telephone, or through the mail. Why does the medium that was used affect the specific criminal charge applied -- "computer fraud"? Just plain fraud would do nicely.
    • by gnick (1211984)

      They do that with just about every category of fraud. I believe that it's partially related to scope and entities responsible for enforcement (different folks handle the case depending on whether I sell you a Rollex from my coat, mail fake credit card applications from my state to yours to gain personal information, or call you from Nigeria to get you to help me with a tricky financial situation). Another reason is probably related to the perceived impact to society at large (can this type of fraud easily

  • I guess the problem was that the folks who didn't get paid couldn't communicate well enough with the company who paid the money out. If that company had just cooperated then the funds could have been tracked to see where they were deposited, which would then lead to the criminals. I suspect that's what finally happened in the end.

  • Crime does not pay (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:36PM (#25472971) Homepage

    All that work by several people over three years to make $500K? There were apparently more people involved than the two indicted, and they had some operating costs. So they might have made $50K/year per participant, if they were lucky. And they had all the hassles of running a business. Even without the "going to jail" part, this was a lose.

    They probably would have done better running a legit trucking brokerage, which they clearly knew how to do. They had to do all the selling and paperwork a real broker would do. Worse, their scam model didn't allow for much repeat business, so they had to keep hustling to find new customers.

  • Truckers ran a scamming operation unnoticed for 3 years...

    • by gnick (1211984)

      There's a distinction between these guys and truckers.

      Truckers drive trucks.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by winomonkey (983062)
        And wear special hats ... "trucker hats," I believe they are called. A little bit of help from wardrobe, some minor social engineering, a little bit of that Ashton Kutcher flair, and it was time to start Punking the real truckers.
  • by bobjr94 (1120555)
    That sounds like alot of work for 500,000 over 3 years.
    • by Shikaku (1129753) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:43PM (#25473107)

      500k should be enough for everybody.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by skelly33 (891182)
      You scooped me. I was going to mention the same. Two hackers, $500K over 3 years is $83K/year. They could have made better money working for Google. Waste of time and prison sentence.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by yuriyg (926419)
      $500,000 tax-free is more like a $750,000 before taxes. Between the two of them that would be a $125,000 annual salary each for not doing much.
      Besides we only know about this scam, who know what other "businesses" these guys were running.
  • by Toll_Free (1295136) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:41PM (#25473065)

    This has been going on for years.

    I OWN a trucking company now, and have been dealing with assholes like this for years.

    Whats becoming even MORE of a problem is the illegals who go out and steal (borrow) an MC and/or DOT number and slap it on the side of their truck. Then they "go to work".

    What with my insurance costing me > 1200 A MONTH, PER TRUCK, it is easy to see why someone would want to "run illegally". It's fairly hard to get caught, unless you run across state lines. Hence, most of the people don't.

    If your truck is titled, with a sticker for the correct weight, you don't go over it, and you don't have any other reason for a scale to flag you, then they don't pull you in. You don't get pulled in, you don't get busted.

    At the risk of being called a racist, the BIGGEST Lusers of this type of behavior, are mexicans. Period. And, this isn't a local trend (California), this is a NATIONAL trend.

    Whats sad is this: The idiots doing THIS scam didn't have to hack anything. All they had to do is look up a legit DOT / MC number for a BROKER, and then go into business with the same business name.

    And brokers licenses are CHEAP. Instead of my insurance rates (600/month liability (1 million dollars), 1000/6 months Cargo, 500/month basic liability (the 600 a month liability doesn't cover you, unless you have a loaded trailer or a load in the "box truck")). For a brokers license, you need a basic 10K dollar insurance policy. Costs, at most, about 250 a month, if you go to the right insurance agent. BOC3 filings cost another 100 a year.

    These people are the reasons trucking businesses are going out of business. It's hard enough having to make 3.00 a mile, when most freight will pay you 1.50 to 2.00 a mile. Then you get the .ru faggots in there stealing business, etc.

    They went even farther than that. According to the Owner / Operator Independant Drivers Association (http://www.ooida.org), they have pulled Russian's out of trucks who didn't speak A WORD OF ENGLISH, where UNABLE to properly identify 3 road signs, etc., and WHERE BEHIND THE WHEEL OF 80,000 to 120,000 pound trucks. However, if you REALLY research it, you can / will find that most people who are running illegally, carry names like Jose, Manuel, etc.

    Sad state of affairs, having to try to make money while people operating illegally are competing with you. Even sadder state of affairs when legal companies are getting profits skimmed off them from illegal brokers, and having to deal with Hose-A and Hose-B running illegally.

    Thank GOD I had dedicated accounts who paid me regularly, and everything else was handled COD.

    This isn't going to stop, nor is it going to go away. It's a fact of life, and until they do PrePass on EVERY truck (somewhat like RFID, but uses EasyTag type devices in the trucks), everyone who operates on the road has to deal with people like this.

    --Toll_Free

    (disclaimer: I took a motorcycle into a wall at 130MPH 6 or so months ago. My company closed at that time, so read into this what you will. Unfortunately, this WAS work related, the motorcycle was a customers, and the throttle cable stuck in a 3/4 gear shift getting the bike to my trailer.)

    • 80,000 to 120,000 pound trucks.

      I assume you were doing heavy permit hauling since the weight limit on the U.S. national highway system is 80,000 pounds.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Toll_Free (1295136)

        80,000 to 120,000 pound trucks.

        I assume you were doing heavy permit hauling since the weight limit on the U.S. national highway system is 80,000 pounds.

        No, I own a hotshot company. 33K pounds and less.

        I was talking of someone operating illegally, as indicated on ooida.org.

        And although you can go up to 80K pounds INTERSTATE, INTRASTATE commerce (within the state lines) is governed by the state DOT.

        IE, you can go up 100K pounds in Oregon, and their length laws are different.

        Each state has their own operating laws. California is a bunch of bitches, considering they say it's to keep the highways "nice", and the highways here SUCK, for lack of better terms.

        I h

    • Sign all your communications with trusted keys...

    • by naoursla (99850)

      Trucks will all be driven by computer in a few (10-20?) years. That will force a change in business models for everyone involved in trucking.

      Likely, people who own trucks will get them retrofitted and then someone will create a site where shipping jobs are auctioned off. The truck owners will bid on the jobs and then send their trucks off to do the work. Capital will flow into the industry such that the rate of return one can get on owning an autonomous truck matches every other low margin business out ther

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Trucks will all be driven by computer in a few (10-20?) years.

        HAHAHA hahaha haha HAHAHAHA hahaha
        Whooo! Sorry for the derision, but that was all the talk 20 years ago (except it was "2001" then). Light passenger cars might be computer driven (more likely assisted, like auto-braking for safety) in special cases after 25 years, but 40 ton trucks should be the province of a human until computers can think like people. There's extra training needed to pilot a big rig correctly; that means it would be doubly hard for a computer to handle unforeseen scenarios.

      • 1. A lot of trucks are moved by train now, and only locally on the roads.
        2. A lot of load boards are already doing this.

        --Toll_Free

    • Too Much Supply... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sweatyboatman (457800) <(sweatyboatman) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @04:43PM (#25474999) Homepage Journal

      ...Chasing too little demand.

      Not that I don't sympathize with the plight of the trucking industry, but it sounds like the business model you're describing is no longer profitable.

      The problem with the trucking industry is not illegal immigrants or unscrupulous competitors. The business you describe should, in theory, be able to attract clients willing to pay more for licensed drivers and adequate insurance. And yet they are still operating with razor thin (and even negative) margins. Most likely because their are just too many legal operations in competition for too little business.

      Singling out "mexicans" (ignoring the varied origins of the local Latino population) strikes me as being quite explicitly racist in this context. You are using people of a different cultural background and physical appearance as a scapegoat for problems caused by the inherent weaknesses in your industry.

      • lol. Spoken like someone that came here on a boat, probably from Cuba, or somewhere else (to make a racial slur, from your moniker here).

        Anywho, 10 years ago, it was a VERY profitable venture, operating a trucking company.

        NAFTA broke a lot of the companies that where making a LOT of money, especially on the border states.

        Most places don't CARE how the freight gets there, just as long as it DOES. Legal or not, if it arrives, who cares.

        Then you have the current problem with oil prices. Diesel prices are ex

  • Almost legitimate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bob-taro (996889) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:42PM (#25473071)

    Except for the fact that they were stealing another company's identity, that's not a bad idea. If they'd started something called, say, "truck-bay" and allowed people to take bids from trucking companies on specific delivery jobs (tacking on a service fee of their own of course), they'd have a perfectly legitimate business.

    • It's a little complicated so I don't blame you if you didn't follow exactly what the scam was. They were acting like ebay... except they were keeping the entire final bid and disappearing to leave the bidder and seller to argue about payment.

  • Companies do this all the time. THey dot have drivers/trucks so they lease them. Some even stick their company logo over the rental logo.

    No different then drop shipping sales from some other company.

    They were the VAR in the loop.

    • by DaveV1.0 (203135)

      The difference is that the criminals were impersonating a company, sub-contracting the load to a third party, then absconding with the payment for the load so that the third party never got paid.

  • by ericferris (1087061) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @03:29PM (#25473793) Homepage

    Safersys.org runs IIS on Windows Server 2003.

    I really wonder how these hackers managed to crack they way into such a well-known paragon of security and reliability.

    • by Kalriath (849904) *

      Actually, there are very few (if any) known security vulnerabilities in that particular version of IIS. So your sarcastic point is actually valid in reality.

      What you'll probably find is that the application is of Government Subcontractor Quality. And we all know what that's like.

  • Truckers run scamless scamming companies.
  • For punishment, a different part of their body should be sent to each destination at which they scammed people. Because we're good sports we'll let them decide which part of their body goes where.

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