How to protect your money from the dark web

The dark web has become a hotspot for credit card fraud and other financial crimes. Here’s how you can protect your private details and stay safe

Man typing at his laptop computer at night
(Image credit: Westend61)

Many people are unaware that on the dark web, their credit card details are under threat.

That’s according to the latest data from the publisher Independent Advisor VPN, which showed that cloned credit cards are the number one use of the dark web with over 8,000 searches.

Another study by Fortra’s PhishLabs, a cybersecurity expert, discovered that 81% of cybercrime is stolen credit card data, while financial institutions like credit unions, banks and payment services remain the biggest target of scammers. 

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While the internet has become a part of daily life for most people, be it at work or at home to relax, it’s become more dangerous with the rise of AI, crypto scams, banking copycat websites, fake dating profiles and investment scams. You never know when one click could lead to your personal information getting hacked, or your hard-earned money slipping away. 

And with almost £2 billion lost to cybercrimes last year according to Action Fraud, people are being asked to stay vigilant to protect their money. 

James Milin-Ashmore at Independent Advisor VPN said: “The dark web provides users with more anonymity and privacy when conducting their affairs online. While there is nothing innately wrong with using the dark web, it has been known to attract criminal elements, hackers and unsavoury activities. 

“This means browsing the dark web could expose you to more digital threats than a conventional internet service with greater regulation and security features.”

But what is the dark web and how can you protect yourself from getting scammed?

What is the dark web?

While you may have heard a lot of warning signs about the ‘dark web’, what exactly does it mean and is it safe to use? 

There are three main layers of the World Wide Web. 

  • Surface web: The part of the internet that is available to everyone and is used for everyday activities like streaming, surfing and posting on social media. 
  • Deep web: The exact opposite of surface web, as it can be accessed using a direct URL or IP address, or you may need to enter a password or other security information. For example, your private social media accounts, emails, bank accounts or paywalled on-demand content. 
  • Dark web: It’s a part of the deep web and requires specific software or authorisation to access. Dark web is part of deep web and has anonymous users whose locations, IP addresses or activity cannot be tracked.

It’s important to note that the dark web is legal to use, but is known for illegal dealings such as stealing people’s personal and financial information.  

Most common scams on the dark web

Many of us think that the only way that scammers can steal personal card details is by stealing the physical card itself. However, there are other ways for scammers to crack account numbers, which don’t involve pickpocketing or breaking into a private database, such as phishing, skimming, malware or data leaks. 

We already know that scammers use every trick in the book to steal people’s money, and the dark web has now become a hotspot for such crimes.

According to the study by Independent Advisor VPN, there are almost 70,000 dark web users in the UK – 1.55% of the global total, placing Britain in tenth position on the global list of dark web users.

The study used the Ahima dark web search engine and found that the highest level of interest was concentrated in England, where Manchester took the top spot.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CityPopulationDark web searchessearches per 100,000 people
Huddersfield 141,6921,8401,299
Milton Keynes197,3542,4901,262

While thousands of users were interested in all things dark web-related, the study also revealed a shocking trend of credit card cloning. 

It found that the top three searches were for cloned credit cards of American Express, Mastercard and VISA. A cloned card is a type of credit card theft where a person’s card information is copied into a new card, which allows the scammer to access their financial accounts. 

The top 10 most-searched results on the dark web:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Rank Most searched-for topicResults
1 Cloned American Express 3,003
2 Cloned Mastercard 2,824
3 Cloned VISA 2,751
4 PayPal Account 2,723
5 Bet365 account 2,601
6 Crunchyroll Account 2,553
7 Instagram account 2,514
7 Hulu Account 2,514
8 Gift Card 2,513
9 HBO Account 2,512
10 Amazon Account 2,421

Other illegal results included hacked social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram, uploading paid content for free, using someone’s details to make fake purchases, hacked PayPal accounts for gambling websites, streaming services and gift cards.  

How to keep your card details safe from the dark web 

The dark web can be a scary place, but there are ways you can protect yourself and your private information. 

Milin-Ashmore says: “Exploring the dark web can be a risky past-time, exposing the user to numerous online hazards. While the dark web has many legitimate uses, its anonymity has led to some criminals and bad actors inhabiting the space. Therefore, taking as many precautions as possible is essential if you are determined to use the dark web. 

“These precautions include keeping your devices fully up-to-date with any system updates as they are released, exploring the dark web via a reputable browser such as Tor, and using a VPN to protect yourself online. It is also worth regularly scanning your computer for viruses if any nasty programs slip past your firewalls. 

“Cybercrime is a real and prevalent threat to internet users, with businesses, charities and individuals all being targeted. Applying the same safety measures to your regular browsing as you would for exploring the dark web can significantly reduce the chance of falling victim to hackers and viruses online.”

Here are some other ways you can stay safe:

  • Know that your bank will never call you out of the blue or send you a text message saying your account has been compromised. If you feel that you’ve received a genuine text, call your bank on a trusted number and confirm it with them. 
  • Avoid clicking on suspicious links that are directing you to other websites or platforms. If it seems fishy, then don’t engage with it – rather use another trusted link. 
  • Keep your passwords secure and unique with a mix of characters, numbers and upper and lower case letters. 
  • Make sure your software is up-to-date and that you have anti-virus software installed on your devices. 
  • If you’re browsing on the dark web, use a VPN to double your security and protect your devices from any threat when browsing. 
  • Try to avoid using publicly available internet at all costs as you could be exposed to malware sites. 
Oojal Dhanjal
Staff writer

Oojal has a background in consumer journalism and is interested in helping people make the most of their money. Before joining MoneyWeek, she worked for Look After My Bills, a personal finance website where she covered guides on household bills and money-saving deals. Her bylines can be found on Newsquest, Voice Wales, DIVA and Sony Music and she has explored subjects ranging from luxury real estate to the cost of living, politics and LGBTQIA+ issues. Outside of work, Oojal enjoys travelling, going to the movies and learning Spanish with a little green owl.