Identity theft has become the signature crime of the modern digital age, thanks to the internet. Identity theft occurs when personal information of a person is misappropriated, especially for unlawful use. (O’Brien, 2000) It is also the production, transfer, or possession of false identity documentation. (Financial Crimes Division, 2006) Personal information can be as public as names, birthdays, and addresses to as private as Social Security numbers and passport identification numbers. (O’Brien, 2000) According to O’Brien (2000), the Social Security Administration admitted to over 30,000 misuse cases of social security numbers in 1999.
This figure increased from a whopping 11,000 in 1997. In 1996, there were 7,868 cases. Smith (1999) adds that in 1997, up to 9,000 arrests were made in connection to identity theft. Identity theft is the focal point of many other crimes. It assists in credit card fraud, kidnapping, and any other criminal activities that use personal information for the advantage and knowledge of the criminals about their victims. With identities being robbed, the financial standing and credit histories of the victims are also put at risk.
Identity can be robbed through many ways. Online, there are ways to actually buy social security numbers of a person, and everyday there are telemarketer-disguised criminals who make calls to households pretending to be sellers or government officials needing one’s social security and credit card numbers for verification purposes or to win a prize. (Common fraud schemes, nd) Most of these calls encourage immediate action, discourage consultation with others and careful consideration, and requires some amount of money or information to be released.
Because of internet, it is now especially easy to make this because of the ease to get names and contact information of people. This takes the form of an email or a posted letter mailed from Nigeria which details the necessity of the sender to take out thousands or millions of dollars from their country because of some legal disputes over it. The sender asks the recipient of the letter for some personal information and assistance in exchange of a big chunk of the money. In almost all cases, the recipient who indulges in the letter and agrees to assist gives his personal information.
He is then requested by the sender to send some payments for government agencies and people who will help release the funds. (Common fraud schemes, nd) To date, the Nigerian 419 fraud takes many forms. Senders have also stopped using Nigeria in their posts but mask the scheme by using some other countries. They also use the name of many government agencies around the world to attract victims, and may have background emotional stories of a dead relative leaving the hefty sum behind. Of course, all these aims to trick the buyer into something.
Money laundering Every year, it is estimated that between five hundred billion to two trillion dollars in illicit funds are laundered. It is the most obvious financial crime globally. This is also happening at a global scale. Money laundering has been defined as a form of illegal activity where money is pooled or solicited for illegitimate use using seemingly legitimate means. (Schopper, nd) There are three stages in money laundering. First, the placement. This is the stage where the funds are put into a financial institution or a retail-base front.
(Schopper, nd) This is done so that the sources of funds (investors, for instance) see that the company is investing the money legitimately. It also attracts more investors. The second stage is layering. Here, the funds are transferred from one account or repository to another. This is done to make it difficult for traces to be made. This also makes the funds disappear. (Schopper, nd) When the money has been layered to several bank transfers and withdrawals, it becomes difficult for authorities to sustain investigations because the money trail becomes broken.
Accounts used in laundering may sometimes be under false or fake identities, making no one really accountable when the laundering activity is caught. Lastly, there is integration. After the money has been layered, it will be reinvested back to financial institutions and retail markets to make it appear as a new, legitimate fund. (Schopper, nd) It now also takes under the ownership of the launderer, through cash or in kind. With the money reintegrated, it is now impossible for authorities to track the whereabouts of the money.
It is even harder to return it to investors who finds out too late that their money is gone. With the existence of e-money, it is easy to launder money without leaving a trail. Criminals can layer illegal funds from one repository to another in minutes, from anywhere around the world. (Schopper, nd) Wit the possibility of opening virtual bank accounts and transacting with passwords alone, it becomes easy for criminals to transfer funds, purchase, invest, and distribute funds from one country to several others without having to go through rigorous identity checks.