Cyber crimes at New Canaan Public Library
Published 5:00 pm, Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Imagine going to your mailbox and finding a letter highlighting a murder-for-hire hit on you. The letter is from the hit-man himself, and details the specifics of the contract on your head. However, at the end of letter is a request. The hit-man will spare your life if you send him enough money to call off the hit. Would you send the money?
If you answered yes than your life is safe. If you answered no, then your life is also safe. This is because the "murder-for-hire" scheme is one of the many types of Internet fraud claiming the hard-earned money of people all over the world.
A more well-known scheme includes a letter from somewhere in Nigeria informing you of a huge sum of money you have inherited. All you have to do is disclose some personal information such as your social security number and send in a paltry (maybe just a few thousand) sum of money before you can get your millions. Sound familiar? If it does, you've encountered one of the world's most recent and common cyber crimes, known as the "Nigerian letter 419."
These schemes and many other cyber security issues were the subject of discussion at the first Great Decisions program in the New Canaan Public Library on the evening of Sept. 27.
The event, dubbed "Globalized Cyber Crime," was created by the World Affairs Forum and included a presentation by Special Agent Conor Phoenix with the FBI.
Phoenix was part of the FBI cyber crimes squad for eight-and-a-half years. He focused mainly on Internet fraud and crimes against children. As of the beginning of this year, Phoenix has been a technical assistant to the counter terrorism squad because, as he jokingly said, "terrorists know about the Internet too."
Due to security issues, he could not delve too deep into the counter terrorism matter, but he did offer up a few things.
He began with the recent news that Iran's nuclear agency is combating a computer worm capable of taking over their power plants. Phoenix said similar security issues could affect the United States.
"The danger to our infrastructure is real," he said. "There are ongoing attempts to breach our military and garner information from unclassified material."
He went on to say that while the FBI is dealing with unclassified subjects, it is still possible to usurp sensitive information from enough unclassified material. He did, however, mention that the "most extremely classified material is not connected to the Internet."
Regardless, a possible breach of security for government and economic secrets would have huge consequences.
"The loss of proprietary secrets are damaging to the U.S. economy," Phoenix said. As of 2003, the FBI director estimated the cost of all this damage would be $250 billion per year.
After that, Phoenix discussed crimes against children. It was an issue the agent described as something "near and dear to his heart" because of all the time he spent pursuing those crimes. Crimes against children primarily deal with the sexual exploitation of minors either by trafficking, tourism or child pornography.
According to FBI research, one in every seven minors is solicited for sex mainly through social networking sites like Facebook.
"Facebook has taken steps to step up their security and privacy settings but we cannot always control how much information minors put out about themselves." Phoenix said.
Phoenix also revealed another sobering statistic when he said 1 million children are exploited every year by the sex trade. "And I am sure that is an underestimation," he added.
He then delved further into the rampant issue of child pornography with some more startling statistics. There are more than 100,000 websites featuring child pornography -- an industry that generates nearly $3 billion worldwide. Phoenix also mentioned that is difficult to reign in the issue across the globe because it is technically not a crime in 138 countries.
He went on to say that while most of these sites are produced in Eastern Europe, many are made in the United States as well.
"In fact, the most popular series was produced in Greenwich," Phoenix added.
Phoenix concluded his presentation with Internet fraud.
"By sheer volume, it is number one in terms of complaints." He said. It is estimated that it cost nearly $550 million to U.S. citizens in 2009. These are the types of schemes like the Nigerian letter that usually deceives the victim into either sending out money or revealing sensitive personal information.
In the area of internet fraud, Phoenix mentioned countless scenarios that could trick people into either paying money or giving out their information. Criminals can pose as legitimate businesses, family members, loved ones, or even your boss from work to get what they need from you.
Phoenix gave the example of fraud through a romantic relationship to drive the point home.
"There was a case with a woman who entered into a romantic relationship with someone online overseas. Despite her friend's requests to end the relationship and to not trust the man, she continued the romance. She had been sending him a few thousand dollars every so often to help him out." Phoenix said.
By the time the FBI had gotten involved, she had already lost $50,000.
For more details on these scams and protective measures against fraud, visit www.ic3.gov for more information.