Friday, September 12, 2008

Will Ike Spike Another Round of Price Gouging?

With Hurricane Ike headed for South Texas -- some are predicting that greedy businesses will gouge people by charging unfair prices for necessary goods and services.

Yesterday, the Texas AAA issued a press release encouraging people to report any suspected gouging. They noted in past disasters hotels, gas stations and convenience stores have been caught taking advantage of other people's unfortunate situation during a disaster. Goods that frequently have their prices artificially raised include gas, drinking water, batteries and food.

The Texas AAA recommends that if you think you have been gouged to keep your receipts and file a report with the Texas Attorney General. The Texas Attorney General has already warned that gougers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Reports can be filed by telephone at 1-800-252-8011.

While Texas is the obvious place price gouging might occur, concerns are already being raised in other States about this. in Florida, in Indiana and WIS10 in South Carolina are all running stories on gas gouging. There is even concern in Canada that Hurricane Ike will spark a round of gouging up there.

Most of these articles recommend contacting your state's Attorney General if you have concerns about gouging. Reports can also be filed with the Department of Energy.

Besides filing a report, there are resources to ensure you are getting the most out of your hard-earned money in your area. is a online means of finding the best prices in both the United States and Canada. In Canada, there is an interesting tool from the CCPA (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) where you can see how much you are being gouged.

As a disclaimer, there are some who will argue that any suspected gouging is merely the result of natural events. Please note the people that argue this will probably be affiliated in some manner with Big Oil. Of course, other's might argue Big Oil has been gouging everybody for a long time. Of course, there is an argument that financial types have been playing around with the prices via speculation, also.

Sadly enough, despite a lot of frustration by the general public, Congress took off on vacation without addressing the public outcry on this issue. I'm not sure how much good reporting price gouging will do, but if enough people do, perhaps all the politicians crying foul about this issue will finally do something about it?

In my opinion, thus far, we've seen a lot of words but little action on this subject!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are Street Gangs using Check Fraud to Fund Themselves?

We keep hearing how white collar crime is becoming more organized. A recent story in Arizona shows how traditional gangsters are getting involved in white collar crime.

In 2006, Postal Investigators investigating checks being stolen from the mail tied the activity into one of the more violent street gangs operating in the Hermosa Park area of Phoenix. This led to one of the biggest street gang cases of the year.

Yesterday, Phoenix police and FBI agents began serving warrants on the gangsters involved in this activity. 102 were indicted in this operation. By the end of the day, they had 38 of them in custody. The arrests are being hailed as crippling the gang in the Hermosa Park area.

Of course, this doesn't mean that this gang wasn't involved in more traditional activity. Also confiscated in the arrests were "24 weapons, 18 cars and trucks, 43 pounds of marijuana and cocaine and Ecstasy," according to the story in the about this. In another story on this by, officials commented that several of the people arrested were connected to violent crimes in the area.

According to the authorities involved in this investigation, this gang is suspected of stealing more than $2 million dollars using stolen and counterfeit checks in the past couple of years.

Often legitimate checks stolen from the mail and other sources are counterfeited. Since the checks are copies of legitimate items, they often pass initial scrutiny at a financial institution.

In recent years, check fraud has exploded. Last year, an International task force monitored the mail in several countries and confiscated checks being produced overseas and mailed to several countries. Additionally, a wide array of check producing software and even the paper with anti-fraud security features can be bought in Office Supply stores and even on the Internet.

Another phenomenon that fuels check and many other types of fraud is the easy availability of counterfeit identification. The distribution and sale of counterfeit documents is also controlled by organized crime. I've written about this frequently and have spoken to Suad Leija and her husband, who have gone to considerable effort to educate the public (and the authorities) about how widespread and organized this activity is.

Suad's website, Paper Weapons has a lot of information on this subject.

Organized check fraud activity has been around for a few years. In 1996, Special Agent Keith Slotter of the FBI wrote a very telling paper on this subject. "The principal ethnic enterprises involved in illegal check fraud schemes include Nigerian, Asian (particularly Vietnamese), Russian, Armenian, and Mexican groups. The majority of the Vietnamese, Armenian, and Mexican organizations base their operations in California, especially in the Orange County, San Francisco, and Sacramento areas," according to the paper.

While the arrests in Phoenix represent a small part of the overall problem with check fraud -- it does point to the fact that organized criminals see check fraud as a lucrative income stream.