Cyber Crime: Wire Fraud, Identity Theft, and the Future of Crime

For as long as mankind has gathered together to do business, there have been those intent on unlawfully enriching themselves at the expense of others. Theft is an ancient crime, and the first accounts of fraud date back to before Roman times. Ancient criminals used to mint counterfeit coins, replacing valuable ounces of pure gold for gold-painted lead.

In some ways, these criminals were the first identity thieves; they created fake money and tried to pass it off as real. This is not all that different from how modern, internet-based, criminals often create fake identities and attempt to pass those off as genuine; or how they might steal an actual identity and attempt to commit crimes in the name of another person.

Nowadays, identity theft, payment fraud,  and wire fraud in general are among the most frequently occurring kinds of crime. Though the cybersecurity industry continues to grow and local law enforcement continues to become more sophisticated in how they track and catch cybercriminals, this kind of crime has only become more and more common.

The Numbers

According to a study released by Javelin Strategy & Research, a cyber-business analysis and advisement firm, over 13 million Americans had their online identities stolen or tampered with in 2015—and over 15 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2016, a growth of over two million additional victims year-over-year. Likewise, the study found that over the past six years identity thieves have stolen over $100 billion dollars from their victims in North America alone. In addition to the research conducted by Javelin, the Federal Trade Commission—the government regulatory agency tasked with tracking such crimes—reports the median amount stolen from an individual victim to be around $450, though certainly some victims have lost far, far, more.

But Why Online Crime?

The $100 billion dollar statistic quoted above goes a long way to explaining why online crime has become increasingly popular. In short, online crime is a massive industry unto itself—and it’s often much safer and more profitable than traditional criminal enterprises. Why expose yourself to the dangers of encountering armed police, potentially armed victims, and other criminals, when you can make the same amount of money from the comfort of your home or a public library?

Unfortunately, cybercrime is often much less sophisticated than the average person believes. One does not need a master’s degree in computer engineering to become a successful cybercriminal. With little start-up cost, less risk than other similar criminal enterprises besides the cost of an attorney, and the potential to tap into a $100 billion dollar industry; one wonders why there are any non-cyber criminals left?

The Future of Online Fraud and Fraud Prevention

Much online fraud actually begins in person. Fraudsters use hardware attached to ATMs, cash registers, and gas pumps to steal your credit card information and then they use this information to funnel funds to themselves through online apps and services.

The necessity of this physical point of contact for certain types of online crime has given fraud prevention experts an opportunity to introduce new, cutting edge, anti-theft technology in these theft-prevalent environments. Stated another way, cyber-security experts are developing practical updates to existing technology that has proven effective in making online fraud and identity theft more difficult.

Unfortunately, though, as police, investigators, and other cyber-security watchdogs become more sophisticated in how they combat online crime, those criminals become more sophisticated in how they avoid detection, too. And thus, the game continues.

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