Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Road Home for Katrina Victims is Frustrating

With all the allegations of "poorly spent money" in the hurricane disasters, it's become apparent that a lot of money hasn't reached the people, who need it.

For instance, take the "Road Home Program", which has paid a company called ICF International over $60 million to issue $4 million in checks. The program is intended to assist victims in getting back into "livable housing," and will manage the distribution of $7.5 billion in federal relief money.

ICF International is a "consulting firm" based in Fairfax, Virginia. According to Wikipeida, it's services have been used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, the United States Postal Service, and Housing and Urban Development.

The program has it's own website, which states:
The Road Home program was created by Governor Blanco, the Louisiana Recovery Authority, and the Office of Community Development. The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
There has been a lot of criticism that ICF has been slow to fill positions for the project. Interestingly enough, there are a lot of positions (still not filled) advertised on their website.

The Times Picayune did an excellent assessment of the lack of program staffing, here.

The "Road Home" website also states that it dispels a lot of myths about the program, but it appears not everyone is "buying their version" of what is going on.

Because of the allegations of "mismanagement," the Louisiana House and Senate have passed two resolutions to terminate ICF's $756 million contract. They are also calling for an investigation into "possible conflicts of interest."

The Times Picayune reported:

The House and Senate, in separate unanimous votes, also passed House Concurrent Resolution 34 by Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, ordering a special legislative panel of New Orleans lawmakers and the Louisiana Recovery Authority -- the state agency overseeing recovery operation in the state -- to investigate ICF's handling of the contract. It was amended by Rep. Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, to also urge the federal Securities and Exchange Commission to probe ICF's public stock offering, shortly after winning the state contract, for possible conflicts of interest.

The Times Picayune article, here.

Sue Sturgis, who writes for Facing South, has also written some interesting commentary on the program.

Ms. Sturgis points out that ICF initially was involved in a contract to help the state decide how to spend federal grant money, which conceptualized the "Road Home Program." During this time frame, ICF decided to seek the "lucrative program administration project."

When the Louisiana Board of Ethics raised concerns that this contract might be perceived as giving ICF an unfair advantage in getting the larger contract, ICF ended the initial one. The payout for the first contract was $900,000, while the Road Home Program could pay ICF up to $756 million.

She also brings out other concerns the Board had with some of the banking relationships that were being proposed by ICF to administer the funds.

Facing South article, here.

Whether conflicts of interest exist remains to be seen. What can be clearly seen is that taxpayer money intended to help Katrina victims isn't getting to those who need it very quickly.

Red tape and excuses aren't going to be acceptable when there are a lot of people still living in "not very nice" conditions.

And until this matter is rectified, there are going to be "voices" calling for some "accountability."

Some of these voices are getting pretty loud.

This month, federal investigators plan to release audit results on contracts given to "so called" politically connected firms in the Katrina crisis. Speculation has it that these audits are going to reveal additional concerns about how money was squandered in the Katrina aftermath.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ask Eric if there is "Zero Liability" in Identity Theft

Sometimes to understand what an identity theft victim is faced with you need to hear about it from a person, who has actually experienced it.

We live in a world where our information is gathered, sold and not protected very well. Meanwhile, there seems to be an army of fraudsters compromising credit issuers, who issue credit without checking very carefully.

Then there is the advertising, which claims that their financial products have a "zero fraud liability."

The Boston Globe did an interesting story that shows the liability innocent people face when they become identity theft victims.

Beth Healey writes:

Eric W. Carroll's credit report says he has a home in Florida, a wife named Katrina, and a pile of unpaid bills.

He first learned this when a debt collector called him in 2002, dialing his apartment in Bridgewater, yet asking for an Eric W. Carroll from Avon Park, Fla. Carroll insisted there was some mistake: He was not married, and he had never lived in Florida.

Nearly five years later, collectors are still hounding the wrong Eric Carroll.

Boston Globe story, here.

And even though Eric seems to have done all the right things, he seems to still be suffering.

There is no zero liability for identity fraud and we need to stop "sugar coating" the true impact it has on individual people.

Here are two places, I've recently "blogged" about where people can voice their opinion to people that can make a difference:

Tell it to the Identity Theft Task Force

Consumers Union Calls for Congress to Protect People's Personal Information

Government uses "phishing" techniques to test information security

Internet abuse in the workplace has been a concern for a long time.

Now the federal government is going to phish their own employees to determine if they will "click" on malicious links.

Wade-Hahn Chan of reports:

Phishing is a technique of tricking or coercing users into giving up personal information, revealing log-in names and passwords or visiting malware or virus-infected Web sites. The government-sanctioned attacks will be designed to test how well federal workers adhere to organization's e-mail security policies. article, here.

Most stories about phishing concentrate on attacks for personal information, which is later used in financial crimes. While this type of phishing is bad enough, spear phishing targets an organization's information.

With the amount of data breaches - both in the private and public sector - the concerns that employees might be compromising large amounts of information is very real. If anyone wants to see a long list of these breaches (courtesy of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse) compiled in the past couple of years, you can do so, by clicking here.

No matter how much security you use to protect a system, most of it proves worthless, if a person with access compromises it.

And although most stories about phishing emphasize the impact this has on identity theft and financial crimes, espionage is a valid concern, also.

This might be a very effective tool to raise "employee awareness" on "information security."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Federal Trade Commission will fight Internet Crime across Borders

Internet crime of often "elusive" because it crosses borders with "a click of a mouse." To fight this a new law has just been signed by President Bush, which gives the Federal Trade Commission a license to go after the problem at it's source.

In their recommendations to Congress, the FTC wrote:

Using Internet and long-distance telephone technology, unscrupulous businesses can strike quickly on a global scale, victimize thousands of consumers, and disappear nearly without a trace, along with their ill-gotten gains. For example, deceptive spammers can easily hide their identities, forge the electronic path of their email messages, and send messages from anywhere in the world to anyone in the world. Fraudulent overseas telemarketers can also victimize American consumers and hide their ill-gotten gains in offshore bank accounts.

The US Safe Web Act contains the following provisions:

Broadening Reciprocal Information Sharing and International Investigative Cooperation.

The FTC can now share confidential information in consumer protection cases with foreign law enforcers. The Act further allows the FTC and foreign law enforcement agencies to obtain investigative assistance from one another, while exempting information from foreign agencies from public disclosure laws. This provision addresses the concern expressed by some foreign government agencies that materials they share with the FTC might be publicly disclosed in response to an inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This concern is reflected in certain foreign laws where the foreign consumer protection agency is not permitted to share information with the FTC unless the information is kept confidential. For example, Canada's Competition Act and the European Unions enforcement cooperation regulation contain such confidentiality requirements.

Enhancing Confidentiality of FTC Investigations.

Prevents notifying subjects of investigations if they may be likely to destroy evidence or move assets offshore.

Protecting Certain Entities Reporting Suspected Fraud and Deception Violations.

The Act protects a limited category of entities from liability for voluntary disclosures to the FTC relating to suspected fraud and deception. This provision is similar to longstanding protections for financial intuitions making disclosures to the FTC and is necessary to encourage reporting of suspected violations to federal agencies.

Allowing Information Sharing with Federal Financial and Market Regulators.

This provision assists the FTC in tracking proceeds of fraud and deception sent through U.S. banks to foreign jurisdictions so they can be returned to victims.

Enhancing Cooperation between FTC and DOJ in Foreign Litigation.

Permits the FTC to work with DOJ to increase the resources relating to FTC-related foreign litigation, such as freezing foreign assets and enforcing U.S. court judgments abroad.

Clarifying FTC Authority to Make Criminal Referrals.

Authorizes the FTC to share information with criminal authorities, which will improve information sharing with foreign agencies that treat consumer fraud and deception as a criminal law enforcement issue.

Report to Congress.

The Act requires the FTC to report to Congress within three years from the date of enactment, describing the use of the FTC's expanded authority and activities under the Act.

US Safe Web Act FTC document, here.

Although this law has just been enacted, it takes away a lot of the barriers to effectively going after individuals and organizations (businesses) that enable the growing problem of cybercrime.

Recently, I've written that technology will never solve Internet crime. It might stop it, or slow it down - but in the end "technology defeats technology."

Holding individuals and organizations accountable is likely to be a lot more effective. This new law breaks down a lot of the barriers that have prevented law enforcement agencies from doing so.

This (in my opinion) is a start in the right direction.

Interestingly enough, Microsoft has taken a similar approach - taking legal action worldwide. Here is a previous post, I wrote about this approach:

Does Microsoft's Approach to Addressing Counterfeiting Make More Sense?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tell it to the Identity Theft Task Force

Fighting Back Against Identity Theft - Federal Trade Commission

On May 10, 2006, the Federal Identity Theft Task Force was formed and has been working on what some believe is a national crisis. And it very well could be, identities are a very personal matter and should be considered, "sacred."

Now they soliciting advice from the public on how they can improve upon the recommendations they've already come up with.

I got this from the press release on the Federal Trade Commission's website:

The Federal Identity Theft Task Force, chaired by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and co-chaired by Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, is seeking public comment on ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of federal government efforts to reduce identity theft. The public comments on these issues will supplement the research and analysis being conducted, provide further information about the proposals being considered, and identify areas where additional recommendations may be warranted.

You can visit the Federal Identity Theft Task Force's site, here.

For all of us who have been "ranting" about this problem, here is our chance to voice our opinions and make a "difference" in what has become a significant problem.

The site has a lot of resources for victims and those who might become one.

They also have two "interesting" ten-minute videos about identity theft:

English, here.

Espanol, here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More Allegations of Money Wasted in Katrina

Recently, I blogged about - whether or not - we would ever discover how much money was wasted in the Katrina disaster. Unfortunately, this statement is turning out to be more accurate that I would have liked it to have been.

Hope Yen of the AP is reporting:

Federal investigators have already determined the Bush administration squandered $1 billion on fraudulent disaster aid to individuals after the 2005 storm. Now they are shifting their attention to the multimillion dollar contracts to politically connected firms that critics have long said are a prime area for abuse.

In January, investigators will release the first of several audits examining more than $12 billion in Katrina contracts. The charges range from political favoritism to limited opportunities for small and minority-owned firms, which initially got only 1.5 percent of the total work.
Government officals (past and present) are now alleging that the dollar amount wasted could exceed $2 billion.

AP story (courtesy of the Washington Post), here.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out and what evidence is brought to light as a result of this.

The sad truth is that there are still a lot of people suffering as a result of this disaster. And it doesn't make sense that they should be when this kind of money was available.

Here is a post, I wrote about the results of a recent GAO (Government Accountability Office) audit:

Will We Ever Discover the True Losses in the Katrina Disaster?