Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Human Side of Fraud on the Internet

Ian Katz Business Writer for the Florida Sun Sentinel had this rather sad story of an individual victim of Advance fee fraud (419) that occurred on a dating site.

"For Gerri Tennenbaum, it was a "vulnerable moment" when she trusted someone she thought of as a friend. Now, the victim of an elaborate counterfeiting scheme, she might be out $9,200, her rental apartment and any hope of getting Hanukkah gifts for her two children. A divorced schoolteacher struggling to raise her 9- and 12-year-old boys -- both of whom are mildly autistic -- Tennenbaum was feeling frazzled in early November by eight days without electricity after Hurricane Wilma."

Another lonely and vulnerable victim harvested off a dating site by a cyber criminal in Nigeria, who was duped into cashing counterfeit money orders and wiring the money (Western Union) to Nigeria.

For the full story, please read; Chatroom 'friend' takes all mother has using online money-order scheme.

It is the individual in these crimes that suffers the most. The best defense against the cyberscum (cowards), who hide behind a keyboard and do this is to make people aware.

Here is a previous post, I did on Criminal Activity on Dating Sites.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) (Nigeria) goes after this type of activity in Nigeria and recently actually paid back some money to a few victims.

Romance Scam 419 Yahoo Group (US) is a good resource on dating scams and they are known to scam the scammers. Of course, if you are confronted with internet fraud, it is always best to report it to the authorities. In the U.S. you can do so at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (FBI).

As parting thought tonight, Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukkah. Protect the good people out there by passing the word to those who are unaware of the dangers that lurk on the internet.

Friday, December 23, 2005

How Safe Are We Really?

Millions of identities are stolen every year via data intrusions, organized malware attacks in the form of SPAM and even by simple "dumpster diving." There is no doubt a lot of this is organized by international criminal gangs, who seem to lack any morals and actively target the innocent and sometimes the most vulnerable members of society.

Here is an example of a recent prosecution, which illustrates how far reaching some of this activity is compliments of the U.S. State Department.

"A Guinean man convicted in February of operating a worldwide visa-fraud ring is going to prison for 10 years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agency announced December 21.

Abdulaziz Bah was sentenced at a U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a result of his conviction on charges of possession of fraudulent documents and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

This was a complex international scheme to defeat the border security of multiple nations. This fraud was exposed by the creativity and persistence of the ICE and Postal Inspection Service, said U.S. Attorney Charles W. Larson Sr. This elaborate fraud stretched from the far reaches of West Africa to the Central Plains of America.

The scheme in which both men were participants involved creating identities for impostors so that they appeared to be permanent residents, or green card holders, of the United States. The U.S. documents produced for the scheme were primarily permanent resident cards and Social Security cards. The conspirators also obtained high-quality counterfeit passports from African countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Senegal.

The conspirators then filled out visa applications and mailed them, along with the fraudulent identity documents, to foreign consular offices located within the United States. The consular offices, believing the applicants were approved U.S. legal immigrants, issued visas and mailed them to U.S. addresses, including addresses in Cedar Rapids. In addition to Iowa, these visas were also mailed to: California, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Washington D.C.

The conspirators then moved the visas and related false identity documents overseas, where unknown persons assumed the identities and traveled to the target countries for entry. The false identity documents seized by ICE investigators showed the main imposters were primarily males from various African countries between 16 and 45 years old."

ICE officials maintain this is the type of activity pursued by terrorists, and breaking the fraud ring has plugged a significant hole in international security."

For the full release, please read; Worldwide Visa-Fraud Conspirator Sentenced in United States.

If this activity is pursued not only by criminals, but also by terrorists, how safe are we really?

According to the release, this is the "result of an investigation launched by local ICE agents into an international visa fraud organization that allowed scores of unknown people to illegally enter as many as 23 countries worldwide using fraudulently obtained visitor's visas."

In one part of the release, it states terrorists pursue this activity and in another it states there are still scores of "unknown people" out there that have illegally entered as many as 23 countries. Could this mean that there might be terrorists out there in the scores of "unknown people?"

When they refer to terrorists pursuing this type of activity, we do have a precedent. The September 11 hijackers held fraudulent Virginia driver's licenses, which were obtained with other fake documents.

According to a document published five years ago, Illegal Immigration, 7 million illegal immigrants were in the United States and the number was growing. In order for these people to work, they need identification. With millions of fresh identities stolen yearly by organized criminal elements, we have a potential for disaster if terrorists can easily hide themselves in this activity.

Organized criminals already control the flow of illegal immigrants across borders and in fact, we already face a lot of criminal activity (some of it barbaric) as a result of this. Illegal immigrants are already known to be used in the drug trade, for prostitution and for "slave" labor in addition to committing financial crimes.

Here is the State Department's 2005 Report on the trafficking of humans.

This indicates the seriousness of "identity theft" crisis, we are facing daily and how it might tie into other issues in the news. The potential goes beyond mere financial crimes and poor refugees trying to make a better life for themselves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More Cooperation Between Canada and the United States on Internet Fraud Issues

I've often commented on internet fraud becoming borderless and that the solution to defeat it is greater cooperation and teamwork. Here is an example of greater cooperation and teamwork between the United States and Canada.

In a press release issued by the "FTC, U.S. Attorneys, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Canadian consumer protection officials, and three state Attorneys General today announced a law enforcement initiative targeting spammers who are cluttering consumers’ mail boxes with millions of illegal and unwanted e-mail messages. The FTC targeted three operations, the Canadian Competition Bureau settled two cases, and the Attorneys General of Florida, North Carolina, and Texas filed complaints seeking to block the illegal spamming of three more operations. U.S. federal criminal authorities have executed search warrants as part of this initiative.

For the full press release by the FTC, please read, Cross-border Law Enforcement Team Targets Spammers.

"Copies of the complaints are available from the FTC’s Web site at and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad."

In the not so recent past, a lot of internet fraud has been traced across the border to Canada. In particular, a lot of Advance fee fraud (419) type scams. Even though this is just a start (I would like to see these partnerships expand across more borders), it is hopefully where the future on prosecuting these crimes lies.