Introduction

A con artist conducting a financial fraud scam through eBay sent Nina Kollars a free Nespresso machine. The scammer didn’t realize that Nina Kollars is an Associate Professor at the Naval War College with extensive experience in Strategic and Operational Research. Suspecting something was going on, Nina began conducting an elaborate research project on the scam and ultimately contacted the FBI with the data she accumulated.

The speech below was delivered by Nina Kollars at the DEF CON 27 Conference the video was posted to YouTube on 15 Nov 2019.

A Message from Nina Kollars

In 2018 I somewhat innocently bought very expensive coffee (Nespresso capsules) online from Ebay. What followed was a series of unexpected additional packages from the manufacturer Nespresso and a lurking suspicion that something had gone terribly–if not criminally–wrong as a result of my purchase. This talk chronicles the obnoxious amounts of obsessive research and tracking that became my new hobby–stalking Nespresso fraudsters and my decidedly non-technical attempts at developing a generic search profile and reporting the fraudsters to anyone who would listen, to include : the persons whose identities had been stolen, Nespresso, Ebay, and the FBI. Ultimately I just ended up with a LOT of coffee; a lingering sense that I had committed several crimes; and no faith left in humanity.

About Nina Kollars

Nina Kollars is writing a book about the ways in which hackers contribute to national security. She is a political scientist whose main research is in technological adaptation by users. Kollars is Associate Professor for the Naval War College in the Strategic and Operational Research Department. She conducts research on military weapons and the humans who use them. Largely unsatisfied with sitting still, Kollars has also worked for the Library of Congress’ Federal Research Division, the Department of Afro-American Studies at Harvard University, the World Bank, an anti-glare coating factory on the third shift, and volunteers for BSides. She is the former viceroy of the DC strategy group Cigars, Scotch, and Strategy. She is also a certified bourbon steward.

Scam Overview 

Here’s a summary of how the scam works:

  1. Financial fraud scammers steal personal identity and financial information from vulnerable retired seniors.
  2. The scammers apply for credit cards using the victim’s information gathered in Step #1 above.
  3. The scammer then sets up an eBay account and lists some item for sale. In the example described in the video, the product being advertised are pods for a Nespresso coffee machine.
  4. The scammer uses the new credit card to purchase merchandise from a legitimate company. In the example described in the video, the scammer purchases the coffee pods, but also purchases a Nespresso machine, all directly from Nespresso and has it drop shipped to the eBay buyer.
  5. The eBay buyer gets the product they intended to purchase (the coffee pods), but also receives a new Nespresso machine in the same delivery. Some buyers will not report this mistake. Others will contact the seller, but ultimately be pleased with the transaction when the seller says they can keep the machine.
  6. The fraud reporting system in eBay permits reporting of fraud when a purchased product does not arrive. According to Nina, there is no mechanism for reporting what seems to be a properly completed transaction.

The above process results in happy buyers who are not likely going to complain to eBay or the seller.

The seller is a financial fraud con artist who is essentially money laundering and getting cash from the line of credit.

The victim has no idea any of this is going on until it’s too late and they are stuck with a huge credit card debt.