Tech Crime & Punishment

In a recent article Sophos had a poll asking what the appropriate sentence for tech related fraud — such as fake “Windows Support” call saying you have a virus and asking for $300 to fix it over the phone. I have covered what to do with any unsolicited phone calls before (The “short” answer: do not believe any claim of identity and ask for proof such as their employee ID#, the company they are representing {which they are often obligated to give you}, the case number for your issue, & a callback number and hang up. Then look up the company contact info — make sure the company is on the up and up {has a physical address, look up consumer complaints about the company, etc.} — and call the official number with your case number if it all checks out. And never be afraid to get a second opinion — if a person tells you not to bother contacting someone else for a 2nd opinion — or worse discourages contacting a 3rd party — it is a huge red flag.) 

Excuse the outlandishness of this idea — it is just an idea that needs further refinement. If you are extremely narrow-minded or think “nothing can change/nothing will help” please stop reading now, to avoid reading something that might upset you. You have been warned…

I was thinking about appropriate punishment a few months back before Sophos ran this poll. The easy solution, prison, costs taxpayers way too much. Given the privatization of prisons, all putting non-violent offenders in prison does is shift the economic punishment to the very citizens whose trust they violated in the first place. Also, it just makes prison corporations wealthier and shifts resources from the government to private corps. that encourage stiffer sentences so their stock owners can make more money. If this wasn’t the government handling people to privately managed corporations, this type of exploitation of people for profit would be called human trafficking. But besides this point, what do we do to tackle this problem? Community service from non-violent offenders to pay back society could offset some of the costs, as long as none of their service required the use of technology. And bolstering parole funding would be a more efficient than paying for the housing and feeding of fraudsters.

I thought, since these thieves are only a danger when they use communications and computing tools, then strip their legal right to use and own any type of electronic device that is used for transmission of communication and any device with a programmable CPU for a minimum of 5 years (ASICS by themselves are fine since they cannot run GP software. To “dumb” HDTVs are fine). That would effectively bar them from using POTS and mobile phones, and all computers. Of course that still leaves the enforcement aspect that could prove costly. So, using old fashioned random spot checks from parole staff, GPS tracked ankle bracelets used for house arrest could be modified to detect illegal use of communications equipment. (This would also mean their parole and law enforcement officers could locate them quickly and correlate additional phone scam activity with their location if the FTC and FCC ever got their act together and realized 2 agencies handling aspects of the same exploit is a good way to let too many criminals fall though the cracks.) If a person violated this, they would then be placed under additional house arrest, without access to a phone line, cable TV etc.

While these might slow down current fraud the techniques, they will continue to be refined. So, to stave off future criminals, and few years of ethics segments in K-6 and classes in 7-12 added to curriculums might help those with dispositions to become fraudsters understand how their seemingly victimless acts have a larger negative impact on society than the easily detectable.

The great impact leads me to this second part. people can no longer bandy about their affiliations without 1 in 1000000 persons thinking of ways to exploit them with this information. I was talking to a friend about how seemingly innocuous information could be used to rob or defraud someone. She told me that even the seemingly innocent stick figure family on the back of a car can be used to help rob/defraud people — especially if one of them is in a service uniform, and even more dangerously if the people’s names are under the stick figures. She went on: combined with a “I’m the proud parent of a child at ____ school.” or the army uniform. This can be enough information to use against a family. Simply put, a person could impersonate a military or school official to call and tell someone a family member has been involved in an accident and to come to X hospital (20 minutes away), or even more simply wait until someone drives the kids to school (since it is “not safe to walk” anymore) to figure out when the house will be empty. Then the question was begged, “What are the odds someone would do that or go to those lengths?” I figure the odds would be astronomically low, but even with a 1 in 100000 chance, or 1 in 1 million change, in the 30 minutes we had been driving during this conversation, we had passed at least 10000, maybe even 20000 people. So, despite the low odds, every person who sees that info is a roll of the dice, and eventually that number would come up.

This might seem to some like fear mongering, but it isn’t if I was a fear monger I would include a link to buy something from me or vote a certain way. No, instead my agenda is information as inoculation by way of readers being able to recognize potential threats. Also, this relates to the big “but I hae nothing to hide” argument against privacy, because without personal privacy there is no personal security, just the illusion that all information you put out there is harmless.

And that’s your nut-bar sandbox post for this week. The sky isn’t falling. But if it does, it will crush the people standing in the open first….

Thanks for reading.

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