Saturday, February 04, 2006

Graft in the Oil Industry Funds Criminals and Terrorists

For many of us gritting our teeth every time we fill up our tanks, it is merely a financial concern. The sad truth is that oil money is funding criminals, terrorists and radical governments.

Failure to take action now could cause us more than a "financial concern" when filling up our tanks.

Robert Worth and James Glanz of the New York Times recently wrote:

"Ali Allawi, Iraq's finance minister, estimated that insurgents reap 40 percent to 50 percent of all oil-smuggling profits in the country. Offering an example of how illicit oil products are kept flowing on the black market, he said that the insurgency had infiltrated senior management positions at the major northern refinery in Baiji and routinely terrorized truck drivers there. This allows the insurgents and their confederates to tap the pipeline, empty the trucks and sell the oil or gas themselves.

"It's gone beyond Nigeria levels now where it really threatens national security," Mr. Allawi said of the oil industry. "The insurgents are involved at all levels."

Here is the full story from the New York Times:

Oil Graft Fuels the Insurgency, Iraq and U.S. Say

The Christian Science Monitor also put it's view in writing on this subject:

"As the world's largest oil user, the US must reduce oil consumption so that an Iran cannot easily wield an oil card to get a nuclear weapon. Or so a Saudi Arabia cannot allow oil profits to filter to terrorists. Or so a Venezuela can't throw oil money at anti-US regimes. Or so a Russia cannot cut off petroleum exports in a strategic dispute. Or, for that matter, so a hurricane like Katrina can't create an oil price spike.

Nor should the US continue to spend billions to deploy its military in the Middle East to secure that dwindling oil patch - one reason perhaps why Bush set a goal for the US to cut 75 percent of its oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.

For the entire editorial:

For oil addicts, switch-grass gas and more (The Christian Science Monitor)

We need to free ourselves from our addiction to foreign oil. ACTING now could be crucial to our very existence. This isn't just the responsibility of our governments, but is also the responsibility of each and every one of us.

In the long term, developing new energy resources will the solution. Here is an interesting article from Missouri Families on how YOU as an individual can start impacting this problem tomorrow:

Reduce Your Gasoline Consumption and Save

There are other ways to do this in the long run, the most important of which is supporting the long term development of alternative resources. We must also become united in our efforts and support our leaders to find a new ways to combat this increasing menace.

Boston Globe Hands Out 202,000 Credit Card Numbers

We can add the Boston Globe to a growing list of corporations that have compromised people's financial information. Sadly enough, this wasn't done by a hacker, but was more of a faux-pax (social blunder). 202,000 Globe and Worcester Telegram and Gazette readers had their names and credit card numbers complete with expiration dates sent out as routing slips on the top of newspaper bundles.

In doing this, they literally handed out everything that a criminal would need to start committing credit card fraud.

Here is one of the stories about this circulating by the Boston Herald:

Fraud follows Globe goof: 3 say others used their credit cards

According to the ID Theft Center, the recent rash of data breaches have occurred in many different ways:

Lost or stolen laptops, computers or other computer storage devices.

Backup tapes lost in transit because they were not sent either electronically or with a human escort.

Hackers breaking into systems.

Employees stealing information or allowing access to information.

Information bought by a fake business.

Poor business practices- for example sending postcards with Social Security numbers on them.

Internal security failures.

Viruses, Trojan Horses and computer security loopholes.

Info tossed into dumpsters- improper disposition of information.

The Boston Globe is just another in a growing list of organizations, who have compromised the information of their customers. Others in the news recently for "data breaches" have been Choice Point, Wachovia Corporation, Bank of America, Time Warner and even educational institutions, such as Boston College and the University of California, Berkeley. Although these institutions are in fact victims themselves, many of these breaches occurred because of a lack of security and even what some would consider "stupidity."

To protect us all, there is a lot of legislation on the books and quite a bit that has been passed. Here are two posts regarding this:

Personal Data and Security Act Moves Forward

Terminating Identity Theft in California

Prudent corporations should realize that the time is NOW to take a serious look at protecting the assets of those, whom they claim are dear to their hearts, or their customers. Besides potentially being in violation of the law, "consumer confidence" is a powerful indicator of whether they will be successful in the future, or not.

A great resource to learn how to protect yourself against identity theft is the Identity Theft Resource Center. If you click on the title of this post, it will take you directly to their web site.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Does the NSA, or the Private Sector Have Better Information?

The NSA and the Bush Administration have been in the news a lot lately for domestic surveillance. A recent development making the news is their alleged partnership with corporate America.

MATTHEW FORDAHL, AP Technology Writer reported yesterday:

"A civil liberties group sued AT&T Inc. on Tuesday for its alleged role in helping the National Security Agency spy on the phone calls and other communications of U.S. citizens without warrants.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, seeks to stop the surveillance program that started shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks. It also seeks billions of dollars in damages.

The EFF claims the San Antonio-based telecommunications company not only provided direct access to its network that carries voice and data but also to its massive databases of stored telephone and Internet records that are updated constantly.

"Our main goal is to stop this invasion of privacy, prevent it from occurring again and make sure AT&T and all the other carriers understand there are going to be legal and economic consequences when they fail to follow the law," said Kevin Bankston, an EFF staff attorney.

President Bush has acknowledged authorizing the super-secret NSA to eavesdrop on international phone calls and e-mails of people within U.S. borders without the approval of a court, as required by existing surveillance and wiretapping laws.

The White House has vigorously defended the program, saying the president acted legally under the constitution and a post-Sept. 11 congressional resolution that granted him broad power to fight terrorism.

Democrats and civil libertarians disagree with the program's defenders, and it has already resulted in lawsuits against the federal government and plans for congressional hearings.
In its lawsuit, the EFF claims AT&T violated U.S. law and the privacy of its customers as part of the "massive and illegal program to wiretap and data mine Americans' communications." The group said it identified AT&T through news reports and its own investigation."

For the full story: Group Sues AT&T Over Alleged Surveillance.

The ACLU seems to be active in the issue, also. Here is a scary site about how this information might be used in the private sector for marketing purposes: ACLU - Pizza.

There is a lot of disagreement on this subject. On a personal level, if terrorists and criminals are being spied on, I could care less and support the efforts to do so. The problem as I see it is when corporations use this same data for so called marketing purposes and innocent people are victimized as a result of this.

Let's face it, we are in the information age and corporations have been gathering data (some might term it spying) on all of us for quite awhile.

The NSA is using the vast amounts of information compiled on citizens for marketing purposes. With all the massive data thefts (intrusions) in the past few years, it is apparent that the criminal element is using this information too.

Perhaps, the criminal element and the NSA know something the rest of us are only starting to understand, which is some of these corporations have gathered the best databases around.

If this is true, then why blame the NSA and the Bush Administration? If we want to solve the problem, perhaps we should address the root cause.

If you would like to read the release on this directly from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, click on the title of this post.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Nurses Are the Most Honest Professionals AND my Mom is One

All too often, I spend too much time pondering and taking ACTION against slime ball people (cyber scum), who rip off innocent people to further their financial resources.

Once in awhile, it's nice to get away from focusing on people with no morals and remember those, who make a difference and demonstrate that daily. Society recognizes professions and people by the contributions they make. It appears that Nurses are at the top of the list AND my Mom (Carole Dickson) is one.

Miranda Hitti of WebMD wrote this telling story based on a Gallup poll:

Nurses are America's most honest and ethical professionals, according to a new Gallup survey. Nearly 80% of the annual poll's participants ranked nurses "very high" or "high" for honesty and ethics.

More than 1,000 adults took part in the November phone survey. They were asked to rate the honesty and ethical standards of various professions as "very high," "high," "average," "low," or "very low."

Nurses have been in the winner's circle before. They've traditionally ranked at or near the top of the list of professionals that the public holds in high regard. Each year the list rotates approximately 20 professions, and nurses have held their high position in the listing since they were added to the poll in 1999, except for one year. In 2001, firefighters were rated No. 1 after their heroic acts during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Interestingly, in her retirement, Mom does volunteer nursing duties at local fire stations. Her sister (Marylou) told me her motivation is because they are "cute." Marylou is another kind soul, who has dedicated her life to the rights of animals and works for the Doris Day Animal Foundation.

Mom also helps Marylou (sometimes coast to coast) in her efforts to promote the ethical treatment of other living beings. She is also a published author on this subject and trains law enforcement and (social welfare types) on the implications of abusive behavior towards animals.

Here is what Marylou does and MOM tirelessly supports in her retirement:

Mary Lou Randour's Bio Page

Here is a link to Marylou's most recent novel/video:

Animal Grace by Mary Lou Randour - All Creatures Book and Video ...

Since retiring, Mom has not only dedicated a lot of her time to supporting Marylou's causes, but has become an outspoken advocate against the war in Iraq and made her political views known by becoming actively involved in the political process.

I could go on and on about things Mom did before she retired, but I don't have time to write a novel.

In the early eighties (after us children left) Mom took two years to run refugee camps on the Thai/Cambodian border. During this time, she met and collaborated with Haing S. Ngor, who starred in the movie the The Killing Fields (1984).

In one of our not frequent enough conversations, Mom told me a train ride she made with Dr. Ngor from the border to Bangkok, where he predicted his death. Sadly enough, he predicted the criminal gangs prevalent in Southeast Asia would reach him no matter where he went. Sadly enough, this later proved to be Los Angleles.

Before that, Mom was an Officer with the U.S. Public Health Service and a housewife (who volunteered a lot of time to the poor) in the Pakistan.

I don't need a "Gallup Poll" to tell me that Nurse are #1. In my book, they are some of the finest people to grace this planet, we call Earth.

Here is the story from Ms. Hitti: Nurses Are America's Most Honest Professionals

Target Taking a Bite Out of Crime

Yesterday, I wrote about eBay and the problems they seem to have with organized fraud. My thought was that in order for them to remain viable in the long run, they needed to address the issues that were causing a lot of their customers to become victims.

In fact, should they fail to do so, I fear their business model could be at stake.

Today, I came across an interesting article in the Washington Post by Sarah Bridges about Target Corporation and their efforts to stem organized fraud. The story deals with the Target forensics lab solving a case, which no one else was able to.

"Besides running its forensics lab in Minneapolis, Target has helped coordinate national undercover investigations and worked with customs agencies on ways to make sure imported cargo is coming from reputable sources or hasn't been tampered with. It has contributed money for prosecutor positions to combat repeat criminals, provided local police with remote-controlled video surveillance systems, and linked police and business radio systems to beef up neighborhood foot patrols in parts of several major cities. It has given management training to FBI and police leaders, and linked city, county and state databases to keep track of repeat offenders."

Here is the full story from the Washington Post: Retailer Target Branches Out Into Police Work.

Besides giving back to the community (something Target Corporation has always done) it started addressing organized criminal efforts in about 1995. Target realized back then that professional criminals were responsible for a large share of their losses and dedicated resources to go after the people responsible.

In doing this, Target not only assists the community, but makes their environment a better one for the general public, a.k.a. the customer.

Microsoft is initiating similar efforts and putting their money into going after cyber criminals around the world.

I recently wrote a post about that:

Bill and Microsoft are Impacting Cyber Crime

I've often written about how jurisdictional boundaries hamper investigative efforts and the need to organize the fight against fraud.

People make fortunes designing security measures against fraud in all it's forms, but the truth is (history proves this) that every countermeasure has a shelf life of it's own. Eventually, the criminals seem to find a way around it, or attack from a different angle. Catching those responsible is probably more effective than a thousand countermeasures.

We should realize that technology is a tool and in the long run, the human mind is capable of defeating AND creating new and better technology. Unfortunately, the mind can be put to both good and bad uses.

I've often written about how jurisdictional boundaries hamper investigative boundaries. It's amazing that Microsoft and Target are leading the efforts in this (but after all) they have some pretty large jurisdictions.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

How Much Fraud Can eBay's Customers Endure

Fraud on eBay is making news again, this time for upset customers being sold counterfeit goods. Here is an article by Katie Hafner of the New York Times:

"A year ago Jacqui Rogers, a retiree in southern Oregon who dabbles in vintage costume jewelry, went on eBay and bought 10 butterfly brooches made by Weiss, a well-known maker of high-quality costume jewelry in the 1950s and 1960s.

Rogers thought she had snagged a great deal. But when the jewelry arrived from a seller in Rhode Island, her well-trained eye told her all the pieces were knockoffs. Even though Rogers received a refund after she confronted the seller, eBay refused to remove hundreds of listings for identical "Weiss" pieces. It said it had no responsibility for the fakes because it was nothing more than a marketplace that links buyers and sellers.

That stance — the heart of eBay's business model — is being challenged by eBay users such as Rogers who are starting to notify other unsuspecting buyers of fakes on the site. And it is being tested by a jewelry seller with far greater resources than Rogers: Tiffany & Co., which has sued eBay for facilitating the trade of counterfeit Tiffany items on the site.

If Tiffany wins, other lawsuits would follow and eBay's business model would be threatened because it would be nearly impossible for the company to police a site that has 180 million members and 60 million items for sale at any time."

For the full story, read: eBay users fed up with fakes.

eBay hasn't only been in the news recently for being a marketplace for counterfeit goods. In a recent post, I covered the problem of stolen goods being sold and merchandise being purchased with fraudulent financial instruments.

Also covered in this post is the growing problem of buyer/seller accounts being hijacked. This normally occurs when a seller becomes a victim of phishing, or is tricked into giving up their account information to a seemingly legitimate eBay request via e-mail. The e-mail links them to an official looking eBay site, where they are asked to "validate" their account information. Should someone fall for this, the criminal has all the information necessary to hijack the account and use it (the account) to conduct fraudulent business.

Although, eBay's official policy is to support law enforcement requests without a subpoena, it takes them 10-20 days to honor these requests. If criminals have access to multiple accounts and fraudulent financial tools, the trail is likely to be pretty cold in 10-20 days.

Here is my post on that activity: Better Teamwork is an Opportunity.

eBay is also getting a reputation for Advance fee fraud (419) activity. On auction sites, fraudulent buyers offer to buy something and send a financial instrument to the seller for more than the asking price. They then dupe the seller into negotiating the instrument, which is counterfeit and wiring the excess money (less a commission for the seller) overseas. When the instrument is discovered to be fraudulent (often much later), the seller is held accountable and could even be charged with a crime.

Counterfeit Postal Money Orders, Cashiers Checks and a new type of instrument, OChex (checks ordered electronically over the internet) have all been used in these frauds, which are becoming collectively known as auction scams.

Over the Christmas season, we saw another scam, where XBox packaging was being sold as the real thing: XBox Latest Lure in Auction Scams.

I wrote this in a recent post, eBay Needs to Protect Those that Line it's Pockets:

"My message to the folks at eBay is that they better take a look at upgrading their "authentication systems" and hire some extra security staff. Blogs like mine and many others are trying to educate the very people, who are making them billions and they blame for allowing themselves to be scammed. eBay is no longer the only the only game out there and if they fail to protect those who line their pockets, they are likely to go elsewhere."

Perhaps a few legal actions will wake eBay up?