Defining Identity Theft

With modern technology, identity theft has become easier to commit by the minute. Identity theft refers to when someone uses someone else’s personal identifying information such as their name, social security number, checking routing number, or their credit card number, without their consent with the intention to commit fraud or any other crime.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), approximately 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Often times the victim is not aware they are the victim of identity theft until months or years afterwards, when their credit and their reputation have already been damaged.

Identity theft thieves use other people’s identifying information to commit a broad range of crimes. They may use the information to rent an apartment, obtain a credit card or checking account, or establish a cell phone or cable account in the victim’s name. The victim doesn’t usually find out they have been a victim of identity theft until it’s too late, or until they have been contacted by a creditor.

Identity theft begins when the thief acquires personal identifying information such as another person’s social security number, driver’s license number, or credit card. It doesn’t matter if the victim is dead or alive; it’s still a criminal offense and is prosecuted to the full extent of the law when the perpetrator is caught. Personal information can be illegally acquired in a variety of ways including:

Skimming – This occurs when a special devise is used to steal a credit or debit card number when processing the person’s card.

Changing the Victim’s Address – The person changes the victim’s address by mailing in a change of address form. As a result, the billing statements are diverted to another location.

Theft – This is the oldest type of theft in the book. This refers to stealing the victim’s purse, or wallet, pre-approved credit card offers, new checks or other tax information.

Dumpster Diving – This refers to rummaging through someone’s trash to find bills, bank statements, voided checks etc. with identifying information on them.

Phishing – The thieves pretend to be a financial institution such as the victim’s bank, or a credit card company and send spam to try and get the person to reveal their social security number or bank account information etc.

Pretexting – The thief uses false pretenses to obtain personal information from a bank, credit card company, telephone company and other sources.

Identity theft is taking very seriously in all fifty states. In Washington, there are two levels of identity theft. How they are prosecuted depends upon value of the credit, money, goods, or services that were taken. If the value of the goods or services etc. obtained through someone else’s identity were valued more than $1500, it is prosecuted as a Class B felony. For any goods or services obtained below the value of $1500, it is prosecuted as a Class C felony and the penalties range from up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine up to $20,000, or both. If you have been charged with identity theft, it’s critical to enlist the services of an aggressive defense attorney as early as possible. An attorney will be able to investigate every aspect of your case and negotiate with the prosecutor, the judge, or jury on your behalf when it comes to sentencing.

Computer Crimes and Federal Offenses

If you are under investigation for a computer crime, or if you have already been arrested for such an offense, you are probably under a great deal of stress. Computer crimes involve a wide range of activities that are otherwise illegal. When people use a computer or the internet to further commit such crimes, then they are categorized as computer or internet crimes.

These days, nearly every aspect of our society is digitalized. People can download movies, apply for a credit card, transfer balances between accounts, and pay their bills all with the touch of a button. The expanding functions of the internet have opened a whole new world to criminal outlets and activities. Criminals are finding new ways to break the law at a pace that law enforcement is struggling to keep up with. Because computers have such a large impact on society as a whole, federal prosecutors waste no time or expense in securing criminal convictions against the individuals who commit such crimes. In fact, the federal government has entire task forces devoted to tracking down and arresting people who commit these types of crimes.

What categorizes a computer or internet crime? One common aspect of computer crimes involves financial fraud and money laundering schemes. Other financial crimes committed via the internet include credit and debit card fraud, hacking and identity theft.

Computer crimes also involve harassment, spamming, phishing, and sex crimes against children. People who possess child pornography on their home or work computer, and people who distribute child pornography via the internet are in violation of the law. Unfortunately, internet crimes involving children can oftentimes be a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps you were not aware that the images were of minors, or perhaps someone else used your computer. Revealing the truth of what actually happened will be dependent upon the highly investigative tactics of an experienced defense attorney.

Because these crimes typically cross state lines, they are often classified as federal offenses. If you are under investigation for a federal crime, you could have a large government entity assisting your local law enforcement agency. This means that the prosecution will have unlimited manpower and means to pursue a conviction. If you want to effectively protect your legal rights, you are going to need the assistance of a seasoned federal criminal defense attorney on your side. Your lawyer will have a wealth of proven defense tools at their disposal. The last thing you would want to do is hire an inexperienced or apprehensive lawyer when you are fighting to preserve your reputation and your freedom. If you are under investigation for a computer crime, don’t hesitate to contact a federal criminal defense attorney immediately.

The Consequences of Stealing – Theft and the Law

Theft can include armed robbery, burglary, theft by check, forgery, unauthorized use of a vehicle, fraud, false statement to a credit agency, shoplifting and the list goes on. The consequences for stealing range from a Class C misdemeanor to felony charges, usually depending on the monetary value of what was taken. If the value of the stolen item is under $1,500 then the perpetrator will most likely be convicted of a misdemeanor. This can result in a simple fine and/or community service, but could also involve jail time, depending on the circumstances. If the item stolen was of great value, the accused will most likely be charged with a felony and will have to serve prison time. At the time of a hearing the court will be notified if there is more than one offense on the suspect’s record and this will also affect the sentencing. People who steal generally do not do it just one time.

It is important to note that in some states, stealing of any kind is considered a “crime of moral turpitude”. This means the act of stealing is not a favorable action in community standards of justice, honesty or good morals. Even if you are charged with a misdemeanor, you will have a permanent criminal record that will follow you for the rest of your life. This can have negative effects on the wrongdoer’s character personally, legally and with future employment opportunities.

One of the most common forms of stealing is shoplifting. Shoplifting is the deliberate act of taking an unpaid item from a place of business and it happens more than we are aware. A person can be convicted of shoplifting even if they don’t walk out of the store, but are found with hidden merchandise in their possession. In some states, there is even a “law of Parties” meaning that if you are with a friend who is caught stealing in a retail establishment, you can also be prosecuted even though you didn’t intend on stealing. An average of $10 billion dollars’ worth of goods is stolen from retail businesses each year. The numbers and statistics are staggering. We all pay the price for people who commit these acts by having to pay more for products when companies pad prices to recuperate losses from shoplifters. The law does not look kindly on people who shoplift.

Bottom line, stealing is never a good idea and can land you in a world of trouble. It will affect the offender in many negative ways for the rest of their lives. Stealing also affects everyone in the community, in one way or another, which is why the laws are harsh. Thieves may think that they can get away with stealing, but eventually they will get caught and will be forced to face severe consequences.

Charges of Property Crimes

Property crimes are any criminal violation that results in the destruction or theft of the personal property of another individual. Ranging from vandalism to petty theft to burglary to arson, property crimes can lead to serious penalties for those who are convicted. The first major type of property crime is theft. This is simply defined as taking something that does not belong to you with the intention of never returning the item or items. Theft is a broad category of crimes and each specific offense is usually classified by how much was stolen or if there were any aggravating factors involved, such as violence or the use of a deadly weapon. Depending on what state the offense was committed in, petty theft is usually any theft of property under the amount of $500 or $1,000. Grand theft is any theft above that amount.

Another type of property crime is burglary. Although often thought of as solely a theft crime, burglary is breaking and entering for the purpose of committing a crime, any crime. This could be a home or a business premise and the law was designed to protect people from unlawful entry, even if nothing was stolen. Another aspect of burglary is that the perpetrator had the intent of committing a crime. This means that even if their attempts were thwarted, they can still be prosecuted and convicted. Another aspect of this crime to remember is that breaking and entering does not have to include physical force. While it can mean that a window was broken or a lock picked, it could also mean that one of the inhabitants was threatened or blackmailed into letting the burglar into their home.

Two other types of property damage that do not involve theft are arson and vandalism. Arson is the burning of a home or business. This crime is always charged as a felony as there is the real possibility that someone may be injured. Even if the building was completely empty, the fire may spread to surrounding areas and lead to loss of life and property damage. Whether this is committed out of revenge, for insurance purposes, or another reason, arson is a serious charge in every U.S. state. Vandalism is another crime that focuses on the destruction of property in varying degrees. From egging to graffiti to keying a car, any offender could be facing large fines and even jail time. If you were charged with any type of property crime, your first step should be to get in touch with a legal representative. No matter how hopeless you believe your case to be, having the right attorney on your side could make all the difference in the outcome of your case.

The Economy Fuels Cyber Crime

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), cyber crime was up in 2008, and if the first few months of 2009 is anything to go by, this trend is not only continuing, it is accelerating.

As the country slides into recession, early indicators for 2009-February to March 2009-shows an additional 50% increase in reported Internet fraud complaints.

“These numbers are shocking, but given that the vast majority of incidents go unreported, the threat of identification theft is actually much more serious than even these figures would lead us to believe,” says Justin Yurek, President of ID Watchdog, Inc. Common wisdom says that only one cyber crime in seven-or about fifteen percent-is actually reported.

Internet fraud includes everything from bogus sales on auction sites such as eBay and classified sites like craigslist.com, to smaller scale version of the Ponzi scheme perpetrated by disgraced New York financier Bernard Madoff.

As an example, a scam recently surfaced via e-mails that masquerade as originating from the FBI and other federal agencies seeking the recipient’s bank account information in order to “help with illegal wire transfer investigations.” Sweet.

The Recession Impact

Many observers put the continued surge in cyber crime down to the recession, and for several reasons.

As reported by the TechArena Forum , McAfee for one, in their annual McAfee Virtual Criminology Report-which examines emerging global cyber security trends, with input from leading academics, criminal lawyers, law enforcement authorities and security experts across the world-identified the following challenges:

The Cyber Credit Crunch – The cyber criminal is now trying to cash in on consumer anxiety to profit from old-fashioned “get rich quick” scams.

Meaning, that there are now people who voluntarily sign up to add malicious code to their websites, lured by the promise of easy money. At the same time, desperate job seekers are being recruited as “money mules” to launder cybercriminal gains under the guise of “international sales representatives” or “shipping managers.”

In addition, with the economic downturn driving more people to the web to seek the best deals, opportunities for cybercriminals to attack are on the rise as people are more easily drawn in.

Governments are distracted – As governments grow more and more preoccupied with the economic downturn, their fight against cyber crime slides down their agenda, inviting more and more audacious individuals onto the cyber crime field.

The Cybercop Shortage – It is a known fact that police forces on the cyber crime front line often lack the specialist skills required to effectively fight these criminals.

Furthermore, the lack of dedicated and ongoing training, sufficient remuneration, or even a clear career path, is causing cyber crime specialists to be lured into the more lucrative private sector or even into underground economies.

Criminality Concealed – Eastern Europe, Russia and China have become key safe havens for cybercriminals while Brazil has become one of the fastest growing scapegoat countries for cybercrime. Traffic is often re-routed (and often via Brazil) as a decoy causing considerable misdirection in the origin of attacks.

Information Silo – While law enforcement is bound to physical national boundaries, cybercriminals are free to cooperate across borders.

Law enforcement communication between countries remains inconsistent and limited. Local issues and priorities take precedence over global efforts and international laws are being implemented with regional variations that impede the ability to negotiate jurisdiction and extradition between countries.

This is an environment that plays right into the hands of the cyber criminal, much to the frustration of cyber police.

Microsoft’s Take

As reported by RedOrbit Microsoft shares McAfee’s view that the global recession could prove to be a starting point for an influx of more cyber criminals seeking to use their computer skills to earn extra money.

“Today these (cyber) attacks are no longer about vandalism, they are about cash,” says Roger Halbheer, Microsoft’s chief security advisor for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

“Cyber crime has gone from cool to cash. And this will definitely grow in the future,” he told AFP (Agence France-Presse) during a recent international conference on terrorism and cyber security in Spain. “At the moment we are still at the cool side. But I’m expecting it to move to the cash side.”

He then went on to add that it is, “one of the things that scare me about the economic downturn because I expect cyber crime to grow.”

Also, the current economic crisis is causing a large number of layoffs, many of them from tech firms, meaning that more and more computer experts will have a lot of time on their hands, but no money. Tempting.

Fixing any and all security issues in software, does not solve the problem for, “Unfortunately the bad guys don’t give up and go away. Instead they increasingly focus on crimes of deception that prey on human vulnerabilities rather than software vulnerabilities.”

A Law Enforcement Perspective

Lt. Rocky Costa, who until recently headed up the Southern California High Technology Task Force agrees. “In fact, law enforcement has always seen a rise in all sorts of theft crimes when the economy goes south. The crooks look to fraud as the best way to separate folks from their money. People are most vulnerable when money is tight and they are looking to save their homes, savings, retirements, and often, their families.

“They become easy prey to the con-artist who has no sense of right and wrong, but knows how to capitalize on human weaknesses. You see the con artist makes a living studying people and their behaviors. They know their success rate will increase as the economy tumbles and/or the recession climbs. Since a vast number of folks use technology daily, it is only natural to expect technology to be another weakness and another method for exploitation.

“Historically, the number of street robberies goes up, along with shoplifting, and burglaries as the money becomes scarcer. Although we have not yet seen these increases at the lab, we fully expect them. However, with the current economy, even government must begin to cut back. When they do, technology based crimes slide down the priority list in favor of these more visible types of theft.

“People need to stay vigilant in the face is despair, holding onto their values and good judgment will be the only way they will be able to fully protect what they have left, until we all see around the corner.”

A Call to Action

According to the RSA Press Release of Tuesday, April 21, 2009:

During the opening keynote at RSA Conference 2009 Art Coviello, President of RSA, The Security Division of EMC, cautioned that the global cyber-threat continues to escalate and online fraudsters are more organized, collaborative and effective than ever. He addressed major forces such as the economy and emerging technologies that are driving the information security industry to evolve and adapt-and how these forces provide an opportunity for “inventive collaboration” to effectively restructure the information infrastructure.

“To combat the cybercriminals requires far more purposeful collaboration on the part of the industry and a strong security ecosystem built around a common development process focused on risk,” said Coviello. “Today’s security technologies are applied as independent applications cluttering the information landscape and leaving perilous gaps of risk.”

Coviello cited three major forces driving the information security industry to evolve and adapt, including:

o the challenge posed by the criminal threat;
o the demand upon enterprises and governments to achieve unprecedented levels of productivity to restore value to the faltering economy; and
o the opportunity to rethink the approach to security based upon emerging technologies and trends such as virtualization, cloud computing and social networking.

According to Coviello, “We must embrace a common development process that allows us to create a more secure infrastructure today. Then with an eye on the future we can ensure that the new technical infrastructure is designed around that process, rather than forcing a process around a collection of technologies.

“We must develop a stronger and healthier ecosystem than the fraudsters and ensure the fluid and frictionless exchange of information on which our global economy depends. It’s not about changing the game; it’s about winning the game,” said Coviello.

Educating the Individual

However, it does not matter of safe our hardware and software becomes, if the individual citizen, desperate for money-and reaching for digital straws, as it were-believes that perhaps this Nigerian Prince really does exist and really does want to spit his $2 Million 50/50 if only he were to help him.

And by the same token, scouring the Internet for the best deal, and finding some that are (in fact) too good to be true, he may pounce on them, not only losing his money in the process, but also his credit card number and other private information.

The same holds true for many “work-at-home” opportunities that only require a small $300 payment for the material you will need to make “thousands a week from your kitchen.” You’ve seen them. Well, as often as not, you will not even receive the material, and by the time you’ve wised up, your card has been charged, your money gone.

The time to wise up is now.

Internet Commerce Made Safe

As we all know, at least during some of our more rational moments-the “too good to be true” deal is often precisely that. But that is not to say that there are no good deals out there. In fact, the Internet is probably the marketplace that to a large extent will pull the economy out of its slump, precisely because it is replete with good deals and true opportunities.

But how to tell the good from the bad?

According to the IC3, the best way to guard against Internet facilitated scams is to stay informed. Keeping informed of the latest scams on the Internet may enable Internet users to recognize and report these scams instead of losing money or their identity information in one of them. To learn about the latest scams, they recommend periodically checking the IC3, FBI, and the FTC websites for the latest updates.

Additionally, the IC3 and its partners have launched a public website, “www.lookstoogoodtobetrue.com,” which briefs the consumer about various consumer alerts, tips, and fraud trends. Pay it a visit. Make it a habit.

Also, when it comes to online auctions, and the potential of non-delivery of goods that you’ve paid for, the IC3 makes these specific recommendations:

o Make sure you are purchasing merchandise from a reputable source. As with auction fraud, check the reputation of the seller whenever possible, including the Better Business Bureau.
o Try to obtain a physical address rather than merely a post office box and a phone number. Also, call the seller to see if the number is correct and working.
o Send them an e-mail to see if they have an active e-mail address. Be cautious of sellers who use free e-mail services where a credit card was not required to open the account.
o Investigate other websites regarding this person/company. Do not judge a person/company by their fancy website; thoroughly check the person/company out.
o Be cautious when responding to special offers (especially through unsolicited e-mail).
o Be cautious when dealing with individuals/companies from outside your own country. Remember the laws of different countries might pose issues if a problem arises with your transaction.
o Inquire about returns and warranties on all items.
o The safest way to purchase items via the Internet is by credit card because you can often dispute the charges if something is wrong. Also, consider utilizing an escrow or alternate payment service after conducting thorough research on the escrow service.
o Make sure the website is secure when you electronically send your credit card numbers.

Bona Fide vs. Fraudulent Online Escrow Companies
If you have found a good online deal and are now ready to purchase, it would serve you very well to take IC3’s recommendation and engage an online escrow service.

The problem is that while there are several bona fide online escrow sites, they are nowhere near as many as there are fraudulent ones.

So, how can you be sure that the escrow company you’re considering using is in fact what it says it is?

You must research it. First, do a WHOIS search on the domain. This will show you how long the site has been up, where it is being hosted, how many times the site has been taken down. These are clues. If it smells fishy at all to you, go elsewhere.

Then Google the name of the escrow company to see what gives. This will lead you to forums and other articles. Study them well.

Then, when you have found a site that appears legitimate, travel the extra mile and take one of several additional steps:

o Firstly, while fraudulent sites can buy the necessary certificate to make it a secure site, they seldom do;
o Secondly, you can check at escrow-fraud.com to see if the site you have decided on is listed as a fraudulent site by them; they also maintain a list of bona fide sites;
o Thirdly, you can call the site’s customer service department to make sure they are based in the United States. If you have any doubts about that, ask them to call you back, and check the caller ID-if it is an international call, beware. Also, if the site does not have a customer service department, again, beware;
o Once you know that you’re talking to a U.S. based service department, ask any questions you can think of to ensure they are legitimate, such as which bank are they using for their escrow accounts, and who is their main contact at that bank (whom you can then call to verify that this online escrow company does in deed have an escrow account there);
o If the answer is a well-known American bank, and if the customer service rep can supply contact information at the bank, you are 99% there. Then, if you want to reach 100%, make that final call to the bank to rule out any vestige of doubt.

Now you have found an online escrow company you can trust; register with them and enjoy your purchase.

Here’s to good and safe Internet deals.