Manuel Zimmer wanted to make money quickly and easy. His idea: an online shop for Daterape drugs and anabolic steroids – order by mouse click, payment in advance. Under a false name, the 28y old trainee from the Rhine circle Neuss in North Rhine-Westphalia registered several Domains using a fake identity, went online and had success: 286 customers ordered with him.
However, they never got the goods!
That was also part of the plan. In fact, the promised products did not even exist, Manuel Zimmer simply cashed in. And his presumably most important recipe for success was that he could assume that his customers would certainly not call the police. Who orders Daterape Drugs or steroids and tells others about it? Thats why, Zimmer managed to scam his „customers“ out of 35,000 euros within four months.
Why Online Frau is hard to detect
But even when his fraud was discovered, the investigators needed weeks to identify the man behind the ominous business model. With wise foresight, Zimmer had had his customers deposit money into an account that did not belong to him. A trick that has become widespread on the Internet – and is posing major problems for banks, prosecutors and the police.
In the depths of the Internet, in the web forums of the “underground economy“, a lively trade with so-called bank drops, or BD for short, has been flourishing for some time. These are bank accounts that are opened under false names. They are used by criminals above all for identity fraud in online trading.
“The perpetrators usually use forged ID documents,” says Georg Ungefuk of the Central Agency against Cybercrime (ZIT) in Giessen. The public prosecutor is currently conducting several investigations into illegal accounts.
“As a rule, bank identity fraud through drops only work within a limited period of time: until the scam is discovered,” he says. But the criminals deliberately take this risk. For their next crooked deal, they simply use a new falsified identity.
For a long time, German banks thought they were safe when it came to verifying customers’ credibility when opening accounts. In Germany, for example, there is a strict identification law in place – unlike in Great Britain, where an electricity bill is sufficient to identify you as a potential account holder. But it’s now clear that this precautionary measure is of little use either: “If counterfeiters even make bank notes, it’s clear that they won’t stop when it comes to IDs,” says a legal expert from the banking sector.
Keynote “Cybercrime” (german language)
In principle, a fake passport can be used to open an account with a fictitious name in any bank branch. Even direct banks, where Deutsche Post verifies the account with its PostIdent procedure, are quickly tricked into using fake IDs. In individual cases, reports Ungefuk, even employees of the verification services have been bribed or have participated in the identity fraud in return. “It’s a stroke of luck for the criminals to find someone to unlock their accounts.”
German Identification Law: Strict, but not strict enough?!
Representatives of the industry affirm that it is hardly possible to really prevent such illegal accounts. “When opening an account, banks and savings banks must comply with the strict requirements of the Money Laundering Act and check personal details on the basis of a valid ID document,” according to a statement by the German credit industry, the umbrella association of banks and savings banks. The employees would also be trained accordingly. But even if all precautionary measures were taken, fraudulent account opening could not be completely ruled out.
Actually the topic is an unpleasant one for the banks. According to the Money Laundering Act, banks are obliged to check every new customer. If they allow themselves to be deceived, there is a risk of trouble with BaFin.
How did Zimmer get caught?
Naturally, it is risky to withdraw cash from ghost accounts at ATMs or bank counters. If the fraud is discovered, it would be possible, for example, to use surveillance camera recordings to find at least the person who picked up the money.
The moment the money is withdrawn is therefore often decisive for the investigators when they try to convict the perpetrators. Manuel Zimmer and his accomplices were also finally handcuffed. The two bank drop dealers, who had also provided the “cash-out” service, each received two years in prison on probation. Zimmer himself was arrested in May 2014 and spent months in pre-trial custody. He is still under investigation.