Sunday, December 18, 2005

Meth addicts' other habit: Online theft

USA Today is running a lengthy article on the intersection between methamphetamine addiction and identity theft. The article, Meth addicts' other habit: Online theft, chonicles investigations that began in Edomonton and Calgary, Alberta and forcefully brought this connection to the attention of Canadian law enforcement.

Intersection of crimes

... What's happening in Edmonton is happening to one degree or another in communities across the USA and Canada — anywhere meth addicts are engaging in identity theft and can get on the Internet, say police, federal law enforcement officials and Internet security experts.

Internet Relay Chat channels, private areas on the Internet where real-time text messaging takes place, are rife with communications between organized cybercrime groups and meth users and traffickers discussing how they can assist each other. "It's big time," says San Diego-based security consultant Lance James, who monitors IRC channels.

Such collaboration seems almost preordained. "This hits at the intersection of two of the more complex law enforcement investigations: computer crimes and drug crimes," says Howard Schmidt, CEO of R&H Security Consulting and former White House cyber-security adviser.

Identity theft has fast become the crime of preference among meth users for three reasons: It is non-violent, criminal penalties for first-time offenders are light — usually a few days or weeks in jail — and the use of computers and the Internet offers crooks anonymity and speed with which to work. Meth is a cheap, highly addictive street derivative of amphetamine pills; it turns users into automatons willing to take on risky, street-level crime.

Meanwhile, global cybercrime groups control e-mail phishing attacks, keystroke-stealing Trojan horse programs and insider database thefts that swell the pool of stolen personal and financial information. They also have ready access to hijacked online-banking accounts. But converting assets in compromised accounts into cash is never easy. That's where the meth users come in.

Sophisticated meth theft rings, like the one in Edmonton, control local bank accounts — and underlings who are willing to extract ill-gotten funds from such accounts. The two men at the seedy motel were helping outside crime groups link up with local accounts under their control when a tipster guided police to them in December 2004....

The article is worth the read.

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