A review of content on Google Inc.'s YouTube service turned up dozens of videos selling stolen credit card data, according to an Internet-safety research group trying to shed more light on an $18 billion illicit industry.
The group, called the Digital Citizens Alliance, accused YouTube of failing to block the videos while profiting from legitimate advertisements that run next to them. Doing a search for how to get valid 2014 credit card numbers yielded almost 16,000 results, according to a 13-page report released today.
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In one example, a video selling stolen credit card information is posted next to an ad for Target Corp., which suffered one of the worst breaches in history in December when hackers stole data for millions of the retailer's customers.
"We were stunned at what we found," Tom Galvin, executive director of the Washington-based alliance, said in a phone interview. "We found dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of stolen credit cards being sold on YouTube."
YouTube said its guidelines prohibit content that encourages illegal activities, including videos selling illicit material.
"YouTube's review teams respond to videos flagged for our attention around the clock, removing millions of videos each year that violate our policies," Niki Christoff, a spokeswoman for the Mountain View, California-based company, said by e-mail.
The alliance didn't cite other online video services, such as Microsoft Corp.'s Bing.com, even though they also have videos selling stolen credit numbers.
Cybercrime is seen as a growing industry, with Javelin Strategy & Research Inc. estimating that hackers pilfered $18 billion last year through identify theft and account frauds. Along with Target, other companies reporting recent data breaches involving their customers include P.F. Chang's China Bistro Inc. and Neiman Marcus Group Ltd.
"The unholy alliance between hackers stealing credit card numbers and online markets advertising stolen and bogus credit cards has existed right under our noses," the alliance said in the report. "Hackers have been promoting the sale of stolen or bogus credit cards on online markets for years, including on some of our most popular online websites such as YouTube."
Galvin called one of the sellers in the videos, who offered him pricing that ranged from $20 each for 10 cards or $10 each for 100 cards.
On the call, which the alliance recorded, the seller instructed Galvin where to use the stolen data and offered to sell him a machine for $250 that would make fake credit cards.
Companies pay Google in order to have their online advertisements appear next to YouTube videos or to be overlaid on the video. Companies that had ads appear alongside videos selling stolen credit card data included American Express Co., Amazon.com Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc., according to the report.
Google has "stringent advertising guidelines" and works "to prevent ads appearing against any video, channel or page once we determine that the content is not appropriate for our advertising partners," Christoff said.
Spending on digital video advertising will increase by $1.76 billion this year compared to $1.31 billion in 2013, with YouTube and Facebook Inc. leading the way, according to Bloomberg Industries research.
Google forfeited $500 million to the U.S. under a 2011 agreement with the Department of Justice for allowing Canadian pharmacies to advertise prescription drugs to Americans. "We take responsibility for our actions," the company said in a statement at the time. "With hindsight, we shouldn't have allowed these ads on Google in the first place."
The Digital Citizens Alliance declined to reveal its source of funding. According to its website, the alliance is supported by "private citizens; the health, pharmaceutical, creative, and other leading industries; online safety experts; and other communities focused on Internet safety."
The alliance's advisory board includes Jonathan Zuck, president of the Association for Competitive Technology, which is sponsored by Google competitors Microsoft and Apple Inc. It also includes such other members as Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, which listed Google as a sponsor.
The alliance plans to notify companies that had their advertisements appear alongside videos selling stolen credit card data with the goal of having them pressure Google to remove the content.