A guest post by another criminal defense lawyer, detailing computer crimes and steps one can do to protect themselves from theft or fraud…
Computer Crime and You: The Money Mule Epidemic
About the Author: Vincent Imhoff is a writer and Los Angeles criminal attorney who acts as a managing partner at Imhoff & Associates, P.C. He earned his law degree at Chicago-Kent College and his undergraduate degree at Lewis University. When he isn’t writing or practicing, Vincent finds time to ski on his favorite slopes and get some jogging in.
When we think of the Wild West, we think of cowboys and bandits, saloons and jailhouses, and a landscape filled with adventure and danger. The internet is not so different. The World Wide Web offers a landscape that is still largely untamed, with criminals loitering on the borders of the net, looking to scheme and scam their way to riches–much like the bandits that used to outrun sheriffs in our classic depiction of the time. One interesting parallel to be drawn is the bank heist, where the masked bandit would wave a gun around and leave with bags full of money. Even into the 21st century, bank robberies of this sort survived, though they are slowly being replaced by heists of a different kind. These heists don’t involve guns, masks, or getaway cars. Instead, they now fall under the category of computer crime, and employ the use of complex codes, swift keystrokes, and a willing participant: you.
SpyEye and Zeus
Instead of guns, hackers are committing computer crime using toolkits to send viruses out to computers all over the world with the aim of infecting the victim’s machine and stealing their credentials and banking information. The most commonly used toolkits are named SpyEye and Zeus, and they have recently become so available that authorities are having a harder time distinguishing who is carrying out these attacks. Generally hackers will secretly and remotely install these products onto your computer. They may steal from you, but generally they target large businesses, and run a program that will automatically withdraw money from their account. This is where they recruit outside help, posing as a legitimate business.
Bloomberg’s online magazine ran a story in August of 2011 (indicative of how long this has been going on) that centered on a woman named Christine Palmer, who was down on her luck and desperate for a job when she received a callback from a company called CS Office Services. What she didn’t know was that CS Office Services doesn’t exist and only served as a front for an elaborate hacking scheme that utilized the SpyEye/Zeus toolkits. Palmer’s job duties required processing online transactions, and she was able to perform them on one occasion. $98,000 was deposited into her Bank of America account in the morning on a Thursday, and she received instructions to withdraw and then transfer a large majority of it, though she was told she could keep $1,800 as a transfer fee. Bank of America caught on to what Palmer hadn’t and halted the operation, freezing her account and claiming that Palmer, though unknowingly an accomplice of the computer crime, was responsible for repaying $9,000 that she’d withdrawn and transferred overseas.
A Money Mule
In the past, the job that Christine Palmer was duped into taking would usually have been performed by an Eastern European students with a J1 visa, either knowingly or unknowingly. Some underground parts of the web even openly advertise the services of what is known as a money mule, a go between that helps to launder money for a percentage of the cut–just like Palmer did. Because of the way that laws regarding computer crime work, these money mules are held responsible for the funds that they move, being charged with crimes such as scheme to defraud. Meanwhile the original hackers generally sit back in a foreign country and let the money come in, untouchable due to anonymity and jurisdiction laws.
If it Sounds Too Good to Be True…
The good news is that many of the folks who actually are unwittingly duped are not slapped with harsh fines or charges, though their involvement in computer crime can affect credit standing and lead to criminal charges. The hiring of an experienced computer crimes defense lawyer may help ensure your punishment is minimal at best. It all depends. So how can you protect yourself from becoming a mule? The best rule to follow is: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The internet is a wild and dangerous place at times. Protect yourself and your computer at all costs, and don’t get duped into becoming a money mule.