On or around 10 March 2022, Pavel Vrublevsky, founder of the Russian payment technology firm ChronoPay (PC42 profile) was arrested in Moscow on fraud charges. Russian law enforcement alleges that Vrublevsky operated several fraudulent SMS-based payment schemes and facilitated money laundering for Hydra, the largest Russian darknet market. However, according to KrebsOnSecurity, Vrublevsky may have been arrested because he publicly documented the links between Russia’s state security services and the cybercriminal underground.

The alleged fraud

According to Russian prosecutors, Pavel Vrublevsky’s fraudulent payment scheme sent out text messages to consumers with links to sites that falsely claimed several well-known companies were sponsoring drawings and lotteries for people who enrolled or agreed to answer surveys. The responders were told they were winners, but also that they had to pay a commission to pick up the prize. The scheme allegedly stole 500 million rubles (some USD $4.5 million) from over 100,000 consumers, KrebsOnSecurity reports.

The public wiki

Strangely, Pavel Vrublevsky has used a public wiki to document his entire 20+ years of personal and professional history in the high-risk payments space. The latest document in the hacked archive is dated April 2021. Vrublevsky’s wiki stories included the nicknames and real names of Russian hackers who worked with the protection of corrupt officials in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the Soviet KGB. In several diary entries, Vrublevsky writes about various cybercriminals and Russian law enforcement officials involved in processing credit card payments tied to online gambling sites.

Alleged blackmailing

A guy close to Pavel Vrublevsky claims, that Vrublevsky has been using his knowledge of the card processing networks to extort people in the online gambling industry who may run afoul of Russian laws. “Pavel scrupulously wrote his diary for a long time, and there is a lot of information on the people he knows,” the guy told KrebsOnSecurity. “My understanding is he wrote this in order to blackmail people later. There is a lot of interesting stuff, a lot of names and a lot of very intimate info about Russian card processing market, as well as Pavel’s own escapades.Dmitry Artimovich, a former ChronoPay director and partner of Vrublevsky, said that he believed, Vrublevsky angered some high-ranking people and that this would have been the real reason for his arrest.

The ChronoPay story

In 2003, at age 23, he founded the company ChronoPay B.V. (www.chronopay.ru), a high-risk payment processor offering credit and debit card services to high-risk (and illegally acting) merchants. Although ChronoPay was headquartered in Amsterdam, the payment processor became a dominant force for processing credit card payments in Russia and controlled roughly 25% of the market. Currently, the website is not accessible for Western visitors.