Monday, October 18, 2010

Social networking sites, Ebay, a boon for criminals intent on fraud

Organised criminals are stealing Australians' identities by plundering the information they place on websites and using it to commit fraud, according to the head of the nation's elite criminal intelligence agency.

The chief executive of the Crime Commission, John Lawler, warned that criminals were taking personal information from social networking sites and using it to fraudulently obtain credit.

''Young people often build online profiles that include such things as interests, pets, relationships, travel plans and life stories. Criminals can take such personal information to fraudulently obtain credit,'' Mr Lawler will tell an international organised crime conference in Melbourne this week.
''There are also instances where criminals target online chat rooms and instant messaging systems to gain personal information for fraudulent use.''

Mr Lawler highlighted the problems caused by the failure to require companies that run online sites to report criminal activity to police.

The issue was highlighted in August, when Facebook was accused of ignoring warnings of an international child pornography ring operating on its pages. After the revelation, Facebook said it would improve the way it assists policing agencies.

Mr Lawler's conference speech says police are still frustrated that much online information is still not reaching them.
''Victims of … online fraud typically don't report it to authorities, rather to whichever organisation is the face of the transaction for them, such as eBay.

''Currently there is no process or requirement in place for organisations to on-report cyber fraud to authorities … We want them to report incidences to us. We want that information.''
Mr Lawler is one of a number of senior policing officials and experts at the two-day conference calling for a renewed focus on battling organised crime.

The former Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Andrew Hughes, who until last year was the UN's chief police adviser, said that the AFP's focus on counter-terrorism had meant the agency had lost momentum in the fight against crime bosses.

''In informal discussions I had with some senior US federal law enforcement officers in New York last year, they admitted that due to counter-terrorism priorities they had lost ground on organised crime. They are now making desperate attempts to recover it,'' Mr Hughes said.

''Following recent discussions with senior AFP officers … I believe they are in a similar position. Commendably, the AFP has re-established serious and organised crime as a high priority.''
Most senior police in state and federal agencies privately believe that Australian policing agencies lost focus in the fight against transnational organised crime due to competing priorities, including terrorism.

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