When the admin or admins of illicit dark web marketplace UniCC — which has become a haven for cybercriminals looking to purchase stolen credit card credentials and Social Security numbers — announced on January 12 it was shutting its doors in 10 days, reverberations were felt throughout the world of law enforcement and shady crime alike.
“UniCC dominated the carding economy following the retirement of Joker’s Stash in early 2021, with total sales of $358 million,” says Tom Robinson, co-founder and chief scientist at blockchain analytics company Elliptic, which first spotted the closure announcement. Robinson estimates UniCC had around 50 percent market share of the dark web illegal money trade in 2021.
UniCC was founded in 2013 by an administrator the U.S. alleged in 2018 was a Russian national named Andrey Sergeevich Novak, and for the better part of a decade fuelled hundreds of millions of dollars in financial crime. But Novak — or whoever is now behind the site — has had enough.
“Don’t build any conspiracy theories about us leaving,” they wrote to their users on the site. “We are not young and our health do not [sic] allow us to work like this any longer.” The site will close down this Saturday, January 22. The message encouraged users to spend any outstanding balances before then.
“UniCC was credible and affordable. That’s why I’m really heartbroken.”
Among those lamenting the loss is Player 456 (clearly an alias), a 27-year-old based in Accra, Ghana. “UniCC was credible and affordable,” he tells Input. “That’s why I’m really heartbroken.”
When COVID-19 struck Ghana in 2020, the government introduced lockdowns that impacted Player 456’s livelihood. “I work in the events industry,” he says. “You can guess how business went.” Looking to make cash, he spoke to a friend who suggested he get into online fraud. The friend ran through a litany of different tools and services that could be used to make money easily and illegally — and among them was UniCC.
Many of those who used UniCC and its competitors came to the sites in the same way. “A friend was making an absurd amount of money,” says the U.S.-based Dan (another alias), who claims never to have used the site but knows well how it and others work. “I asked what he was doing, and he showed me UniCC and sites like it.”
For Player 456, it was an eye-opener. Alongside the ability to buy access to compromised credit cards, which could be used for illicit online shopping sprees, the site also held a database of stolen U.S. Social Security numbers. Those numbers allowed people to file fraudulently for unemployment benefits, depositing the cash in U.S.-based …….