Computer Crime Research Center


Credit card scam

Date: January 02, 2006
By: Bob Arden

Cyber crime, computer hacking, identity theft -- it all comes down to someone trying to get between you and as much of your money as possible.

But instead of a gun these thieves generally use a keyboard, and often, an Internet connection.

Sarasota attorney John Patterson recently brought a high-powered panel of experts on computer crime to a meeting of the Tiger Bay Club, a panel that had worried-looking Tiger Bay members muttering about firewalls and password managers as they later left the room.

Patterson quickly got the audience's attention pointing out that somewhere between $50 billion and $200 billion a year is lost to Internet-related thieves of one kind or another. Much of the information stolen -- and later used to steal your money -- is remarkably easy to obtain.

For example, Andrew Adkins of the University of Florida Law Center pointed out that our credit card numbers and passwords are usually stored on the cell phones we casually toss onto the table in a restaurant or bar.

Worse, said Adkins who's also director of the Legal Technology Institute at the UF Law Center, those credit card numbers, your name, address and even driver license number is usually embedded on every one of those key cards you're given to open the door to your room when you check into a hotel.

And it doesn't take a lot of expertise to set up a card reader to decode those cards. In other words, the cards should be treated like your money -- because they're certainly a gateway to it.

Right here in Sarasota, panel member John Jorgensen is president of Sylint, a company specializing in cyber security. Jorgensen related that he recently drove around the community with a laptop computer and found 67 wireless computer networks operating so openly he could detect them just driving by -- and 45 of them had no security protection at all.

Not only that, Jorgensen explained, but many small companies that have their computer systems breached and data stolen are reluctant to report that fact because they don't want to news to get out to their customers.

Simply put, Adkins said, "If you don't want to see your private information made public, don't send it on the Internet."

Only about 7 percent of the cyber crime in Florida is actually reported, according to Patterson. This despite the fact Florida has some tough laws with minimum mandatory sentences for cyber crime.

"The question is," he asked, "is reporting cyber crime effective?"

Russell Hayes, a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Tampa division, told the Tiger Bay Club there are limitations on the effectiveness of reporting. For example, Hayes pointed out the U.S. Attorney's Office normally only prosecutes cases involving more than $50,000. There have been cases where that figure was as low as $15,000, he added, but only if "very sensitive data" were involved.

That brought a response from panel member Chris Golembe, vice president and a manager of corporate fraud investigation for Wachovia Corporation. Golembe related that Wachovia, a $500 billion company, sees $15 million to $20 million a year tied up in cyber crime.

Golembe admitted his staff investigates cases and "wraps them up with a ribbon," before shopping them around for prosecution.

"Maybe we take them to the FBI, the IRS, Secret Service, the post office or local law enforcement," he explained, in hopes of getting them prosecuted.

"The biggest mistake is waiting until it's too late," Jorgensen opined. "Much of the time companies don't know who is trying to invade their data or how."

He said in some cases his company "sets up a honey pot," in an attempt to attract the criminal back for another try -- "and then we can make life miserable for that perpetrator."

Many of the panel members provided tips on how individuals or small businesses can make themselves less vulnerable to cyber crime.

"If something shows up in your in-box and you're not expecting it -- just delete it," Hayes of the FBI suggested.

"Technology is years ahead of the law -- maybe seven to 10 years ahead," Adkins said.

"Nobody can look out for you like you," he added, especially warning about "phishing."

That's where computer users are asked for their passwords and credit card numbers by what appear to be authentic messages from their banks or credit card companies. Except the messages aren't authentic at all.

For example, Adkins showed a phishing message on IRS letterhead that asked for the receiver's pin number.

"Ask yourself," Adkins pointed out, "why would the IRS want your pin number?"

"So the best defense is self defense," Patterson concluded.

Admitting he's not what he calls "a cyber person," Patterson became interested in information management after being appointed to the Trial Court Technology Committee by the Florida Supreme Court and the Technology Task Force of the Florida Bar.

Detective Jack Carter of the Sarasota Police Department said later that nearly 10 percent of the country's population was involved in some degree of identity theft over the past five years. He suggested the best test of whether that group includes you is to monitor your credit reports.

"Get a credit report and use it as a base and then check them at least annually," he suggested. "After all, a good identity thief can make $5,000 a day in cash and at least that much in merchandise."

He added that it takes the average victim about 175 hours of effort and $1,200 "to get their good name back."
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