What happens when a Good Samaritan sees a crime unfolding and tries to report it but nobody seems particularly interested?
Ask David Cook.
The Norton man was roaming through a website frequented by fans of antique rifles when he spotted something that stopped him cold: Someone on a forum was offering to sell stolen credit cards.
Nine different cards were listed, along with the names and addresses of the rightful cardholders.
“Fresh card numbers for sale at very cheap rate with high balance,” it read.
The rate — $25 — was indeed cheap, given the promise that the cards were good for at least $2,000 in buying power.
“If balance low or not work, [sic] free replacement in two hours.”
Eight of the cards were Visa, and the other was a MasterCard.
Cook says he called both card companies but discovered they didn’t have dedicated fraud departments. However, when he provided one of the account numbers to each company, he was given the name of the financial institution that issued that particular card.
In one case, that was the banking giant Barclays. Cook says his attempt to reach somebody at Barclays was unsuccessful because the waiting time was endless and he didn’t feel like spending his entire evening on the phone for something that didn’t even involve him.
One of the stolen Visa accounts belonged to MetaBank, a regional group in Iowa and South Dakota. So he tracked down its “fraud line,” only to discover it was instead a general number that took him to an offshore boiler room.
“After trying to explain to someone who couldn’t comprehend what I was trying to tell them, I finally asked to talk to a supervisor, and that was as frustrating,” he says.
Eventually, the supervisor figured out what Cook was saying and froze the account.
Cook also took the time to contact the Cleveland office of the FBI.
He wonders how much patience a typical person would have when trying to report a fraud he wasn’t even victimized by.
“When someone does get through, it is to offshore, [where they] can’t understand beyond their script,” he says. “I used to work for KeyBank and dealt with offshoring. I know firsthand how bad it is.”
After failing to get the kind of responses he wanted, he emailed me, including a link to the Web page in question.
That was nearly a month ago. As of Friday, the link was still active.
The Internet sometimes bears a striking resemblance to the Wild West. Anything goes, at least until the bad guys are caught. Very often they aren’t. Many of them are technologically savvy enough to stay one step ahead of the sheriff.
Compounding the frustration is that it’s hard to figure out who the sheriff is. Internet criminals usually are based in some other state or, extremely often, in some other country.
So what can we do when we encounter them?
There’s no great answer, for the reasons cited above. But the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has a suggestion. Take your story here:
That’s the website for the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.
The IC3 directs complaints from the public to the appropriate local, state, federal or international law-enforcement office or regulatory agency.
It’s a public-private collaboration founded in 2000. The private entity, the White Collar Crime Center, says it “provides a nationwide support system for law enforcement and regulatory agencies involved in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of economic and high-tech crime,” and says it offers training, investigative support and original research.
If you go to the IC3 site, you can read about the latest in cyber scams, such as a new trend in which spam, phishing emails, keystroke loggers and remote-access Trojan horses are used to sneak into financial institutions and get employee log-in credentials. That enables the thief to institute unauthorized overseas wire transfers.
Another recent trend involves “ransomeware” that can infect your computer when you’re simply passing through certain websites. The computer freezes and a warning screen appears that says you have violated a federal law because you have visited an illegal site. Your computer can be unlocked only if you “pay a fine to the U.S. Justice Department” — using prepaid money card services, of course.
The scams go on and on.
As far back as 2007, the San Jose Mercury reported that the “plague of online crime isn’t just chaotic wrongdoing on a mass scale; it has coalesced into an interconnected industry that runs the gamut from virus writing to money laundering.
“Seemingly separate attacks like spam, phishing scams, viruses and Trojans, botnets and data breaches are the ugly Hydra heads of a single, complex beast that functions much like a legitimate market.”
The drive and creativity of Internet thieves is astounding. You wonder what technological miracles they might have achieved had they gone legit.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.