Let me admit one thing up front - I am a computer Neanderthal. As a matter of fact, when I graduated from college nearly four decades ago, these electronic wonders (that now manage nearly every aspect of our lives) had not even found their way into business school curricula.
Oh My, how times have changed. But one thing that has stayed the same is the definition of fraud, which has been a part of our lexicon for eons. Simply put, it is an intentional false statement used to deprive an innocent victim of money or property. What is completely new is how people are now victimized. In other words, it is the same song but with a different verse.
Before the advent of mail, it was usually necessary for the fraudster to deliver a spiel to the potential victim face-to-face. When letters came in to existence, the crook only had to invest in a postage stamp to remotely defraud the victim. Not now. Anyone with a computer can deliver faceless phony pitches to millions of people almost instantaneously over the Internet - at little or no cost. Moreover, without proper security (as if there were really such a thing), thieves can tap into bank accounts, credit cards and most of the world's cash.
Although former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has taken great pains to discredit the rumor, many people actually still believe that he ‘‘invented'' the Internet. The truth is that it began in 1969 as an experiment between the University of California at Los Angeles and Stanford Research International. In 1974, the term Internet was used for the first time. But the network didn't really take hold until 1988 - when it was opened to commercial interests. By now, nearly 2 billion computers are connected worldwide, a number that continues to grow rapidly.
This is not unique to Internet crimes. Airport security gained importance after repeated attempts were made by terrorists to hijack and/or destroy planes and passengers. Physical screening became the norm but it was not (and is not) foolproof. Richard Reid, the so-called ‘‘shoe bomber,'' was one step above - pun intended - prevention measures of the time when he walked aboard an airplane with explosives concealed in the heel of his shoe. Now, every man, woman and child must remove their shoes to have them x-rayed before boarding a commercial aircraft. And then came the ‘‘underwear bomber,'' who unsuccessfully attempted to blow up a plane. This serves to illustrate that those who are determined to commit crimes will likely try to find a method that works.
With Internet fraud prevention, there isn't (and likely won't be) nirvana. Just as soon as the good guys think they've developed the perfect solution, the bad guys will prove them wrong. That leaves us with learning from the past so we will recognize the Internet fraud scams that have occurred and take appropriate measures. Put another way, education is the best fraud prevention tool.
Internet fraud is not committed by electronic machines but rather by the people using them. However, computers are a vital aspect of the miscreants' schemes and our efforts to catch them. If we are able to identify who is behind the keyboard, bringing them to justice most frequently involves traditional investigative methods - victim and witness interviews, methodically gathering evidence, undercover operations and confrontation of the suspect.
If you investigate Internet fraud, are responsible for its early detection or prevention, if you educate others or if you simply have an interest in this fascinating topic, you will find much valuable information between these covers. Although I don't have a crystal ball, I'm going to make an almost sure-fire prediction. As use of the Internet grows, so will the problem of fraud.