The Sophistication of High-Tech Crime

Abstract

            Today, there are creative ways that scammers and schemers commit crimes.  The internet, identity theft, cellular phone scams, and the news are the most popular means.  A thief can concoct a scheme from a news headline.  A recent scam is those claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or the Social Security Administration trying to obtain personal information such as a social security number to deposit your rebate check directly into your bank account.  Consumers receive warnings frequently about giving personal information to unsolicited callers.  Most banks and other companies such as Pre-Paid Legal offer protection against identity theft by monitoring your credit.

In the twenty-first century, most consumers use the internet for everything.  One can pay bills online, look up information, play games, order merchandise, and even check voice mail messages.  Our children spend much time on the internet; therefore, they can fall victim to online predators. Child pornography is being distributed.  Credit card numbers and home addresses are being accessed.   They are “hacking confidential systems and personal home computers to obtain or delete information and planting harmful viruses that destroy entire systems” (Lockyer, i).

            As consumers, we can protect ourselves.  As parents, we can put parental controls on our computers so that our children cannot access certain websites.  It is also wise to talk to children about the internet.

Child molesters frequent chat rooms online (Lockyer, 1).   They lure children with the promise of friendship and material things. Their goal is to obtain personal information such as an address or telephone numbers.  These pedophiles may also wish to share illegal photographs of minors and lure them into “illicit sexual relationships” (Bauchner, 86).  We see this often with teens.  A girl is chatting online with a new male “friend” when her parents are out of sight.  He suggests meeting in person since they have a great online relationship.  She agrees to meet him.  Following that, she ends up missing, raped, assaulted, or dead.  We see movies like this often on the Lifetime movie network.  They are usually based on actual events.

Even as adults, we must be leery of chat rooms.  Many lonely people frequent chat rooms in hopes of finding companionship. Anybody can make themselves sound dreamy online, but that may not be the case in reality.  They could be mentally unstable. Therefore, it is not wise to reveal too much personal information about ourselves to strangers.

            The internet is also full of scams.  Pyramid schemes are popular.  “Pyramid schemes focus on recruiting new members, not selling products” (Lockyer, 7). The one or two initiators of the scheme are the only ones receiving profits.

Another internet scam that exists is spoofing.  “Spoofing is the practice of creating a fake Web site that closely mimics a legitimate site in order for the malicious Website creator to extract personal information from users of the legitimate site” (Bouchner, 56).  These fake sites usually contain the same graphics, diction, and layout as the legitimate one.   In April 2004, thousands of users were receiving emails from what appeared to be PayPal, a website that allows consumers to send money to anyone with email, for users to update their account information.  Many people with online businesses subscribe to PayPal in order to receive payments from clients and to transfer funds to their bank accounts. When people logged into this fake site, they unknowingly gave their account names and passwords to the creators of it.

In the summer of 2005, Microsoft promoted a tool to combat spoofing called Sender ID.  “Sender ID was an email-authentication technology that verified the domain name from which mail was sent” by the IP address of the sender (Silver Lake Editors, 206). Although this technology didn’t prevent scams from being initiated, it made them easier to detect.  Because there were some downsides to Sender ID, like inaccurate authentication, it proved not to be the best hope of fighting spoofing.

            Hacking is also a way of obtaining consumers’ private information.  “The term hacker is often used to describe a person who breaks into other people’s computers to wreak havoc on their systems or to steal information” (Bauchner, 32).   Hackers create computer viruses or worms to contaminate the hard drive and even delete files.  Viruses attach themselves to a program or file so that it can spread infections as it travels from one computer to another.  Worms are similar except that they have the ability to copy themselves and travel from machine to machine on their own through networks.  The end result is that the worm will consume too much memory and stop everything from working properly (Bauchner, 47).

Trojan horses “are simply phony software applications that say they do one thing and really do another” (Bauchner, 48).  They are capable of erasing the hard drive or deleting files.  Some only perform silly tasks, like rearranging your desktop.  The best protection is to have antivirus software installed on your computer and update it periodically.  The software will perform routine virus scans and warn you of potential threats.  It is also wise to store important files on a floppy disk or CD.

There are hackers that attempt to understand the finer points of computers systems and “stretch their capabilities” (Bauchner, 32). They understand more about computers than the typical user.  They may work for companies testing their security systems.  Some hackers are even children that see it as a challenge or even fun to break into a corporation’s computer system.

            Many criminals get new ideas for schemes from news headlines.   A few months ago, taxpayer received rebate checks.  Scammers called taxpayers claiming to be from the IRS or the Social Security Administration saying that they need personal information in order to deposit your rebate check directly into your account (“Consumer Alerts”, n.d.).  Other consumers received unsolicited emails concerning rebate checks.

            The IRS does not call or send emails concerning tax information.  The only way to have received a rebate check is to have filed a tax return.  You can check the status of you tax refund by visiting the official IRS website.  The Federal Trade Commission warns consumes not to give out personal information to unsolicited phone callers or in response to emails. All criminals need is your bank account number or your social security number to steal your identity.

Cellular phones and land lines are also used to perpetrate fraud.  A popular scam is the use of obscure area codes like 809 or 823.  Although these are legitimate area codes in the Caribbean, “they operate like 900 numbers in the continental U.S. “(Silver Lake Editors, 153). Usually, an urgent message is left to the consumer regarding an important matter.  Those that return these phone calls are charged international call rates, which are usually very expensive (Silver Lake Editors, 154).  One can register with the National Do Not Call List via cell phone or online to block telemarketer calls.  For land lines, you can block calls by entering a code depending on your service provider.

Today, most cell phones have cameras.  While you’re standing in line at the grocery store, crooks can take pictures of your credit card.  Bam, they’ve just stolen your identity!  Cell phone can also be cloned with the purchase of generic electronic equipment.  When in use, cell phones emit electronic information like the electronic serial number (ESN) and the mobile identification number (MIN).  These signals can be captured through an ESN reader (Silver Lake Editors, 154).  The captured information can be transferred through a computer onto microchips in other cell phones.  These phones can be used for up to thirty days before the fraudulent charges show up.  Organized criminal groups, drug cartels, and many Middle Eastern groups use cloned cell phones (Silver Lake Editors, 155).  As technology becomes more advanced, cell phone cloning will become obsolete.  Digital cell phones are fairly secure from cloning (Lockyer, 10).

Computer forensics is a growing field.  “The FBI recently identified computer crime as one of its top priorities, behind terrorism and counterintelligence” (Bauchner, 97).  Jason Weiss, a computer forensic technician with the FBI, described the FBI as the “most interesting employer on the planet”.

Computer forensics deals with searching computers for evidence of cybercrime (Bauchner, 10).  Cybercrime includes hacking, internet scams, and the release of computer viruses.  A computer forensic specialist uncovers “digital evidence of criminal activity” to catch perpetrators (Bauchner, 10).  First, they do an investigation to check for criminal activity.  Next, they use the evidence found in the computer to settle disputes in or out of court.

There is a growing need for skillful computer forensic investigators.  In 2005, the FBI increased its computer forensic laboratory network (Bauchner, 100).  The reason was because “in 2004, the Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory (RCFL) program accepted 1, 548 requests for service, conducted 1, 304 forensic examinations, and trained 2, 040 law enforcement personnel in various digital forensics techniques” (Bauchner, 100).  The competent person should not only possess savvy computer skills, but he or she must have background and training in criminal investigations.  Some organization offer special training.  In some cases, lawyers and computer scientists by trade enter into law enforcement.

  Many people hire computer forensic specialists.  Criminal prosecutors use documents and files that can incriminate in cases involving child pornography, embezzlement, or homicide.  Corporations hire forensic specialists to search for signs of theft of confidential or inside information.  Insurance companies are constantly looking for false claims.  Law enforcement officials need assistance in handling seized computer equipment (Bauchner, 11).  If someone has been wrongfully terminated from his or her job, a computer forensic specialist can support their claims.  Computer records can also be used in cases of discrimination, fraud, divorce, or harassment (Bauchner, 12).

In Cincinnati, Ohio, the police got “a half million dollar federal grant” to pay for new high tech crime fighting equipment (“Last Update”, n.d.).  Databases can identify unknown suspects based on a tattoos or biometrics.  Biometrics is when the space in measured between facial features.  A face that is photographed by a security camera is enhanced to measure these spaces.  Thus, “the spaces can be compared with the faces of known criminals” (“Last Update”, n.d.).  Tattoos are usually the feature that victims remember about their assailant.

In some cases, nicknames of criminals, like “J-Dog”, can be entered into the database if that is the only information that is available to the police (“Last Update”, n.d.).  This type of intelligence will allow the police to stop offenses in less time.  This could change the whole aspect of crime in Cincinnati.

Another tool that is used to fight high-tech crime is the Global Positioning System (GPS).  Police can attach a GPS to a suspect’s car secretly and track his exact location constantly online (Bolduan, 1).  There is a debate over police using GPS since innocent people can be monitored as well.  The Supreme Court has not yet addressed the issue of GPS tracking without warrants.  It was pointed out that “it’s very easy to get a warrant if the police have a good reason, it doesn’t take a long time, and if there is a real reason, the warrant will be granted” (Bolduan, 2).

In a recent case in Fairfax County, Virginia, the police followed David Lee Foltz, Jr., a suspect that had been previously convicted of rape.  The Washington Post reported eleven attacks on women in the area that he lived (Bolduan, 1).  Foltz is charged with abduction, sexual battery, and connection with an attack.  Since his arrest in February 2008, the attacks have stopped.

In 2007, engineers at the University of Virginia developed a Web CAT program (Web-based Crime Analysis Toolkit) “that allows police to easily access crime data online—and spot trends that show what types of crimes happen most often, and where” (“Science Video”, n.d.).  The system allows users to look for crimes by type, dates, location, and type of weapons used to commit the crime at ease.  As a result, the system generates graphs, reports, and maps of high-crime areas.  It also informs the user of new crime trends.

The only problem with this system is that each jurisdiction in Virginia reports crime data to the state police, which reports data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  Once this happens, local law enforcement agencies cannot share information.  Following this, tracking crime is difficult (“Science Video”, n.d.).

 The U.S. Secret Service is the recognized law enforcement expert in telecommunications technology fraud.  They investigate crimes associated with financial institutions.  “Its Financial Crimes Division (FCD) plans, reviews and coordinates criminal investigations involving financial systems crimes” (Silver Lake Editors, 245).  The Secret Service is more involved with financial scams than the FBI.  The FBI focuses its efforts on losses of $100,000 or more.

Crooks can get your PIN number for your ATM card in many ways.  One is skimming, which “is what happens when thieves place an electronic card-swipe device over the bank’s ATM entry slot” (Smith, 13).  It reads the information on your ATM card while a tiny digital camera records your PIN number.  That is all the scammer needs to drain your bank account.  To avoid this type of scam, reduce the amount of trips to the ATM.  It is also wise not to make withdrawals at night.  One should not write their PIN number on their ATM card or give it to anyone.  Lastly, it is always better to use an ATM at a bank location (Smith, 15).

Many charity scams exist today (Silver Lake Editors, 97).  Even after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, many fraudulent websites were appearing, supposedly as charity sites relating to the hurricane.  In 2006, a job was advertised using the CareerBuilder website name.  They needed workers to transfer money to charities.  Cashier checks were mailed to the “worker”; he or she was allowed to keep 5% of the check amount and wire the remaining amount to the charity.  The charity, of course, did not exist. The cashier checks sent were counterfeit; any checks that were deposited into a personal bank account were returned for insufficient funds, and the “worker” would owe the bank money.  The FBI was attempting to catch these criminals that were residing in a foreign country.

Law enforcement agencies focus more on prosecuting criminals than preventing crimes (Silver Lake Editors, 250).  The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to work on crime prevention.  However, in 2005, a report from the House Government Reform Committee concluded that overall security inside the largest government agencies was not high-quality. In fact, “seven of the twenty-four largest federal agencies—including the Department of Homeland Security—received failing grades” (Silver Lake Editors, 251).  This makes it difficult for these agencies to require private companies and organizations to enhance their own security systems.

There are various ways that consumers can protect themselves from identity theft.  Some companies, such as Pre Paid Legal, offer identity theft protection for a small fee. They monitor your credit and send you email alerts concerning your credit report.  You even receive emails for non-activity during a calendar month.  When you first sign up for the program, they even check for previous identity theft.  They send you a copy of your credit report and credit score. If your ID is stolen, they do all of the work to restore your identity.  Without ID protection, doing everything yourself would be stressful and time-consuming. Restoring your identity could take months or even years to re-establish.

     Websites like www.AnnualCreditReport.com allow consumers to order a copy of their credit report.  New legislation entitles you to one free credit report from each of the major, three creditor bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union, in a twelve-month period.  It is best to order all three together to compare the different credit scores.  You can also order credit reports by mail at Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 or by phone at 877-322-8228 (Bridgforth, 57).  Beware of “free credit report” offers that are not affiliated with any of the three credit bureaus.  Many scams are hidden within those plans.  “Free” does not necessarily mean that a product or service is first-rate.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees the operation of these major creditor bureaus.  It also “works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair practices in the marketplace and to provide information to businesses to help them comply with the law” (“Consumer Alerts”, n.d.). Its website, ftc.gov, is available to file complaints or get free information on consumer issues.  The FTC enters all complaints into Consumer Sentinel, which is a secure, online database available to many civil and criminal law enforcement agencies nationwide and globally.

In conclusion, because of the advancement of technology, high-tech crime will be difficult to eliminate.  The more that we rely on the Internet and email for business and personal use, the more criminals can take advantage.  They see high-tech crime differently from other felonies such as murder or bank robbery. Of course, the consequences of high-tech crime are just as detrimental.  Each of us can do our part in preventing scams from happening to us.  We can follow news reports since most scams are created from news headlines.  Since many of us use email to communicate with the outside world, we can block unwanted spam.

In April 2004, the Clearswift Spam Index found that 40% of spam was pharmaceutical or healthcare related, 37.8% offered financial advice, and 4.8% was pornography (Silver Lake Editors, 132).  We can usually recognize spam that isn’t filtered by sleazy headings.  As mentioned previously, everyone is offered a free copy of their credit report once yearly from each of the primary creditor bureaus.  We should take this opportunity to check our credit reports for accuracies and discrepancies. It can make a big difference in our future and current situations in our lives.

References

1.      Bauchner, Elizabeth. (2006). Computer Investigation.  Philadelphia:  Mason Crest.

2.      Bolduan, Kate. (August 18, 2008). Is GPS A High-Tech Crime-Fighting Tool or Big Brother?  Retrieved September 1, 2008 from http://www.cnn.com.

3.      Bridgeforth, Glinda.  (2007). Girl, Get Your Credit Straight! New York:  Broadway Books.

4.      Lockyer, Bill. Hi-Tech Crime:  Protecting Yourself in the Computer Age.  Retrieved August 29, 2008 from http://www.sfgov.org.

5.      The Silver Lake Editors. (2006). Scams and Swindles (Ed.).  Los Angeles:  Silver Lake.

6.      Smith, Ron. (2006). Scam Busters.  New York:  Collins.

7.      Retrieved August 29, 2008 from http://www.ftc.gov.

8.      Retrieved September 1, 2008 from http://www.local12.com.

9.      Retrieved September 2, 2008 from http://www.sciencedaily.com.