15 April 2011

Social x-rays and scary stuff

Coco Chanel reputedly quipped that you can never be too rich or too thin. The Australian Crime Commission seems to have embraced that maxim in its latest report on Organised Crime In Australia 2011 [PDF].

The report has been greeted with the usual scare headlines and pictures of proud law enforcement personnel displaying packages of Colombian nose candy. The ABC for example reports -
Drug, fraud gangs costing Australia $15b a year

Organised crime is costing the Australian economy a staggering $15 billion a year, according to new figures released by the Australian Crime Commission.

The Commission's report has found that credit card fraud, identity theft and cyber crime are all on the rise.

But it is Australians' love of illicit drugs that is proving to be the most lucrative source of income for organised crime. ...

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor says organised crime now plays out on a worldwide stage.

"Because of technology, because of the evolving nature of our economy, crime has gone global, increasingly crime is transnational," he said.

"Criminals are no longer recognising boundaries of states, that's why law enforcement agencies have to work closer and closer together.

"We are seeing through intelligence and close co-operation successful outcomes in detecting, disrupting and apprehending criminals but we need to do more.

"This report is a reminder to the public that these are major challenges and people must make sure they secure themselves."
The 103 page report is, alas, thin ... very thin.

In dealing with identity crime it for example states that -
• Organised crime groups which engage in identity crime take advantage of weaknesses in identification and authentication processes.

• Some organised crime syndicates have become professional identity crime ‘specialists’, with the single purpose of producing high-quality fraudulent identity documents.

• Mail theft remains one of the enablers of identity crime.

• Card skimming—the theft and use of identification data from financial transaction cards—is now considered a prominent feature of the identity crime market.

• If chip and personal identification number (PIN) technology is more widely operational in Australia by 2013 it will reduce card skimming.

• Identity crime is likely to increase in the future.

The report goes on to explain that -
Credit card fraud, Internet scams to elicit banking and personal details, identity theft, social security fraud —identity crime is one of the ways in which serious and organised crime reaches into many ordinary businesses and homes. Identity crime is a common element in serious and organised crime and poses a critical risk to the Australian community. Fraudulent identification is used to cheat unsuspecting victims, conceal criminal activities and movements and evade detection or arrest. Advances in information and communications technology provide unprecedented opportunities to exploit greater numbers of people with each new criminal scheme.


Identity crime encompasses the theft of identity information and related financial information, the assumption of another identity for fraudulent purposes and the production of false identities and financial documents to commit crimes. The main targets for fraudulent identity documentation are banks, lending agencies and other financial institutions and taxation/revenue collection agencies. Organised crime groups which engage in identity crime take advantage of weaknesses in identification and authentication processes. Identity crime allows them to avoid taxation, obtain fraudulent loans and withdraw funds illegally, open and operate bank accounts in false names for the purpose of money laundering and facilitate organised theft by shopping groups using false credit cards and skimmed card data.

Identity crime is also evident in taxation fraud, where false identities are used to lodge fraudulent tax returns for refunds. By using someone else's identity, the perpetrator attempts to remain anonymous and at arms length from the fraud. Identity crime is both a crime type in its own right (at least at state level) and an enabler of other crime types. Syndicates have become professional identity crime 'specialists', with the single purpose of producing high-quality fraudulent identity documents. Identity crime enables other crime types in two ways:
• false or fraudulent identities make it more difficult to identify who is committing offences

• identity crime provides a means of financing activities such as money laundering, people smuggling, terrorism, fraud and drug trafficking.
Intelligence indicates that specialist groups operate large-scale identity production facilities in Australia, providing documents to criminal syndicates.

Identity crime groups use both sophisticated, cost-effective technology and simple ‘off-the-shelf’ products to produce identification and credit cards that replicate overt and covert security features.

Mail theft remains one of the enablers of identity crime. Personal information continues to be regularly sent through postal services and, even though there are security processes protecting this information, some criminal groups are likely to continue using the post to obtain identifying documents and particulars.

Card skimming — the theft and use of identification data from financial transaction cards — is now considered a prominent feature of the identity crime market. Card skimming is becoming more structured, with overseas and domestic groups involved. It allows criminal groups to launder funds and to buy goods and sell them for profit. It also supports other offences such as card fraud and is a source of funding for other crime types.

Identity crime is likely to increase in the future. A number of factors are expected to influence this, including technological advances increasing highspeed information flows (which will allow criminal groups to share information faster and may make detection more difficult), increased use of wireless remote communications, and the lack of widespread biometric identification measures (such as those which incorporate fingerprints).

As an enabler, identity crime can obscure the nature and identity of people who commit other crimes — ensuring it will remain a feature of the organised crime environment. The growth of identity crime will also be driven by the nature, diversity and evolution of identity crime syndicates and offences. However, there may be some inhibitors to slow the momentum. If chip and PIN technology is more widely operational in Australia as expected by 2013, it should reduce card skimming. If biometric measures are introduced on a broader scale and government-endorsed document verification schemes continue to be implemented, this should also slow the growth of identity crime. Government initiatives may also slow the growth of identity crime. For example, the Government is working with the states and territories to implement the National Identity Security Strategy (the Strategy) agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments to strengthen identity management processes to prevent and combat crime. The Strategy includes measures to improve standards and procedures for verifying consumers’ proof of identity when registering for government services, enabling the general public to have greater confidence in using government services online, and enhancing interoperability of biometrics. The Government has introduced new legislation (the Law and Justice legislation Amendment (Identity Crimes and Other Measures) Bill 2010) which inserts identity crime offences into the Commonwealth Criminal Code and includes measures to assist victims of identity crime.

As the banking and finance sectors are increasingly being targeted by cyber and identity crime, the Government is engaging with those sectors to develop a collaborative partnership to prevent identity crime, in particular the harm caused by credit card fraud. A multi-agency Identity Crime Implementation Team has been established to develop policy and operational responses to identity crime.

The Government also undertakes public campaigns to raise awareness of identity crime and how to protect a person’s identity. Examples of this include the 2010 National fraud Awareness Week, which included more than 100 partners from government, the private sector and the community, and the release of a booklet titled ID Theft – Protecting your Identity.
No solid statistics, no substantiation through reference to convictions, no critical evaluation of aspirational statements regarding national identity card schemes (inc biometrics) or the effectiveness of the various strategies and teams, and little recognition that new technologies potentially facilitate law enforcement (rather than merely empowering criminals)but pose questions regarding justice.

As for the notion of 'organised crime', it's all very scary -
a dynamic, ever-evolving transnational phenomenon of immense size. Organised crime is sophisticated, resilient, highly diversified and pervasive. Current patterns of organised crime are more complex now than at any point in history.

Organised crime groups are entrepreneurial and unrestrained by legislation, borders, morality or technology. They are adaptable, innovative and fluid — infiltrating a wide range of industries and markets, well beyond areas generally considered vulnerable.

They are strategic and continually scan the marketplace for vulnerabilities, new opportunities and emerging technologies in order to make the greatest profit. They are flexible about changing direction to achieve their goals. They adjust operations in response to law enforcement efforts to harden the environment. They collaborate for mutual benefit and can quickly disperse and regenerate in other markets if disrupted.

Organised crime operates within and alongside legitimate businesses, spanning multiple sectors to maximise return and minimise risk. Increasingly, organised crime uses logistics planning and aggressive marketing, buys in expertise and specialist facilitators and invests in research and development and risk mitigation strategies.
Given the emphasis on scary stuff, complete with reference to national security threats, the report doesn't offer a definition of 'organised crime'. We are told however that -
In Australia, organised crime involves a highly interconnected milieu of criminally minded groups and individuals, which come together as opportunities arise. Organised crime groups in this country vary significantly in sophistication, structure and modus operandi, dependant on their perceptions of the opportunities and threats that exist at that time. The organisational structures adopted by criminal networks are heavily influenced by their perceived opportunities and threats. Rapidly evolving and temporary criminal structures and capabilities create problems for government and law enforcement agencies in identifying and ‘triaging’ targets and aligning operational and legislative responses.

Organised criminal groups and networks operating in Australia, whether transnational or domestic, can be formidable in terms of their capabilities, resources and resilience. They exploit existing opportunities and create new ones.
Really? a "highly interconnected milieu of criminally minded groups and individuals"? They're big, they're bad, they're everywhere ... and presumably poised to defenestrate your budgie or kitten. As the basis for legitimating the national 'war on crime' I'd prefer something with just a little more bite.