ChronoPay Founder Charged With Alleged Payment Scam in Russia

SMS, scam

Pavel Vrublevsky, founder of Russian payment technology company ChronoPay, has been charged in Moscow with money laundering.

Writing on his website Tuesday (March 22), Brian Krebs – a journalist who has covered Vrublevsky for years – said the businessman is accused of operating a number of fraudulent SMS-based payment schemes, while also facilitating money laundering for Hydra, Russia’s largest darknet marketplace.

However, Krebs wrote that he’s obtained information that suggests it is “equally likely Vrublevsky was arrested thanks to his propensity for carefully documenting the links between Russia’s state security services and the cybercriminal underground.”

Krebs first began writing about Vrublevsky in 2009 while working as a reporter for The Washington Post.

In 2014, Krebs published Spam Nation, a book on the rise, fall and resurgence of spam and hacker networks that featured Vrublevsky. The year before, Vrublevsky had been sentenced to 30 months in a Russian penal colony for convincing an affiliate to launch a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against a competitor that crippled the ticketing system for the state-owned Aeroflot airline.

Now, he’s accused of carrying out a scam that involved sending texts to consumers with links to sites that falsely claimed that several well-known companies were sponsoring drawings and lotteries for people who enrolled or agreed to answer surveys.

Everyone who replied was told they had won, but that they had to pay a commission to claim their prize, a scheme that allegedly stole 500 million rubles from more than 100,000 people.

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Vrublevsky is also accused of operating “Inferno Pay,” a payments portal that worked with Hydra. As PYMNTS noted last year, Hydra — founded in 2015 — is best known for dealing drugs, although it has since expanded into a number of illegal offerings, such as trafficking in stolen credit card data, counterfeit documents, fake banknotes and cyberattack services.

However, Krebs spoke to Dmitry Artimovich, a former ChronoPay director who had a falling out with Vrublevsky. He said the alleged SMS scam had nothing to do with the arrest.

“I believe he angered some high-ranking person,” Artimovich said.