In testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on Wednesday, FBI's Assistant Director Gordon M. Snow highlighted how yesterday’s con men have transformed into modern-day charlatans conducting their scams in virtual worlds to steal identities and other critical information.
Social-networking sites, especially, are breeding grounds for cyber criminals who trick unsuspecting victims into revealing bank account information and other details. In addition to identity-theft crimes, child predators often use social-networking sites to find and communicate with future victims and other pedophiles, Snow said.
In addition to targeting children on the Internet, cyber crooks use various methods to steal money from online users. Snow detailed a recent scheme that involves a scammer getting access to an unsuspecting user's email account or social-networking site. The fraudster, masquerading as the account holder, sends messages to the user's friends, saying he has been robbed of his credit cards, passport, money and cellphone, and needs money immediately. Before realizing the message is from a criminal, the friends wire money to an overseas account without confirming the claim.
Speaking of how cyber fraudsters use data mining on social-networking sites to collect sensitive information about their victims, Snow noted how this can be done either on a large or a small scale. In a large-scale data-mining scheme, a cyber criminal may send out a “getting to know you quiz“ to social-networking site users. While the answers to these questions are seemingly innocent, they often imitate the same questions asked by financial institutions or email account providers when an individual has forgotten his or her password. Thus, an email address and the answers to the quiz questions can give the cyber criminal enough information to intrude victims' bank or email account.
The impact on individuals and commerce suffer from cyber crime can be substantial, with consequences ranging from a inconvenience to financial ruin, Snow said.
“The potential for considerable profits is enticing to young criminals, and has resulted in the creation of a large underground economy known as the cyber underground,“ he said. “The cyber underground is a pervasive market governed by rules and logic that closely mimic those of the legitimate business world, including a unique language, a set of expectations about its members' conduct, and a system of stratification based on knowledge and skill, activities, and reputation.“
Detailing efforts by the FBI to combat cyber crime, Snow spoke of the bureau's four-fold cyber crime mission: to stop the most serious cyber criminals; to identify and combat online sexual predators; to counteract operations targeting U.S. intellectual property; and to dismantle national and transnational organized criminal gangs involved in Internet fraud.
Acknowledging the bureau cannot combat the cyber threat alone, Snow spoke of partnerships with federal, state, local and international law-enforcement agencies, as well as with the private sector and academia. At the federal level, the FBI leads the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force as a multiagency national focal point for coordinating, integrating, and sharing information related to cyber-threat investigations. The FBI also works side by side with not-for-profit organizations, Snow said.
“Working closely with others, sharing information, and leveraging all available resources and expertise, the FBI and its partners have made significant strides in combating cyber crime,“ he said. “Clearly, there is more work to be done, but through a coordinated approach we have become more nimble and responsive in our efforts to bring justice to the most egregious offenders.“