Corona Cash: Payment Platforms on the Dark Web During Covid-19

Payment platforms and apps (such as PayPal, Cash App, and Zelle) have become popular over recent years as we conduct our lives more and more through our mobile devices.

In parallel, these platforms are increasingly mentioned on the deep and dark web within three contexts: payment, in which goods and services—sometimes legal and sometimes not—are transacted using these platforms; fraud, in which a vast ecosystem of actors provides services needed in moving and laundering illegal money through or related to these platforms (or exchanging for cryptocurrency); and account takeover—compromising and cashing out legitimate accounts of payment platforms.

Though mentions of payment platforms were on the rise prior to COVID-19, they spiked tremendously during lockdowns. The rise is staggering: from February until the peak in May, the total number of mentions rose 262%. 

This report focuses on trends and shows examples of how these payment apps provide critical infrastructure in dark web financial crime.