In recent years, computer crimes, also known as cyber crimes, have become a major threat to people’s lives, especially in the areas of security and privacy. One such cyber crime is online identity theft wherein thieves and other unauthorized individuals obtain and use the victims’ personal information illegally to gain something such as money and merchandise.
About 15 million people in the United States have fallen victims of this crime and each year, approximately 100 million more individuals unknowingly place their personal information at risk, according to identitytheft.info, because of downloading malicious software, visiting and transacting with unsecured websites and online stores, and finally, responding to messages coming from unknown senders.
There have been various studies and researches done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice in the past years, which highlight the fact that the increase of internet identity theft could be highly attributed also to the increase in online credit card fraud.
The researchers found out that from 56.3% (2005), the percentage of identity theft household victims increased to 64.1% (2010) and reported that they experienced misuse or attempted misuse of their existing credit card account.
A more recent Victims of Identity Theft report released in 2012 highlights the fact that about 7% of US residents aged 16 and up or approximately 16.6 million individuals have been victimized by identity theft online. Moreover, fraudulent use of bank and credit card account information constitutes 85% of identity theft incidents.
The Internet and technological era contributed a lot in the rise of credit card fraud which could be evident in both account takeover and the creation of fake credit cards. Account takeover occurs when the suspect obtains the victim’s personal information without the latter’s knowledge and the fraudster would then take over a legit account by providing the victim’s details.
The card issuer is then contacted, with the suspect acting as the cardholder and asking for the bills to be sent to a new address. The card would then be reported to be lost, so the issuer would send another card to the fraudster and making the crime complete.
In creating phony credit cards, fraudsters may either erase the magnetic stripe, create a fake card, alter the card details or do skimming wherein the details placed in the card’s magnetic stripe is electronically copied on another one.
Anyone can become an identity theft victim, and the culprits may be someone who we couldn’t even imagine doing such cyber crime. Last April 21, 2014, veteran Sweetwater detective William Garcia was found guilty of 12 counts of credit card fraud by the US District Court. He was also convicted of the following charges: illegal and fraudulent use of one or more credit cards from other individuals, conspiracy in the production of phony credit cards using stolen numbers and 10 counts of identity theft.
The case of the former South Miami Detective Richard Munoz, who pleaded guilty on March 14 on extortion and fraud conspiracy charges could be closely linked to Garcia’s case because both officers worked together with a certain Luis Camacho, who was in charge of creating the fraudulent cards.
When Camacho was arrested, he agreed to cooperate with the FBI by being an informant and a key to Garcia’s arrest and conviction. Camacho, Munoz and several others testified that Garcia indeed possessed and used counterfeit credit cards in purchasing in Miami-Dade Country shopping malls in 2010 and early 2011.
The Federal prosecutors also presented videos and audio tapes which recorded Garcia to be bringing the fake credit cards to the informant’s residence and discussing his use of the said cards in paying for his charges and fees in restaurants, movies and a mall in the area. As a result of his conviction, Garcia was relieved from his position of authority and faced a mandatory minimum sentence of two years up to 35 years maximum imprisonment.
It is therefore important to be mindful and careful in making transactions physically and online because we are not sure about the people around us and they may be plotting to do something that may harm our lives and our possessions. Preventive measures to avoid credit card fraud and prevent identity theft must be observed such as not divulging too much personal information, not responding to messages from unknown senders and only downloading and visiting secure software and websites, are some of these.