David Yount column: The evils of cyberspace


Every time before we leave home for more than a few days my wife and I phone our credit card issuer to explain where we plan to be and for how long. The bank actually welcomes our call, because we have been victims of identity theft twice during the past few years.

Long before Moses proclaimed the Ten Commandments, stealing was condemned as a sin. Notwithstanding, over the centuries theft worldwide has not only soared, but the thieves have become more difficult to identify and bring to justice. If you are not yet a victim of identity theft, just ask around and you will find many people who have been robbed without being aware of the loss.

Because cyber thieves deal only with numbers, they never encounter their victims. Operating anonymously, they don't think of themselves as common criminals. They are proud of their code cracking, so conscience is seldom a deterrent to crime.

Misha Glenny, correspondent for The Guardian and the BBC, is author of the just-published book DarkMarket: Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You. He notes that the Internet has enabled thieves to buy and sell stolen or hacked credit card details, hundreds of thousands of which they exchange around the world (like baseball cards), before buying goods or drawing money from cash machines.

Chronic cyber thieves are often content to withdraw modest amounts from the same accounts over time, so the banks and cardholders are not alerted. Incidentally, housing thousands of stolen card details on a thief's own computer is not considered a crime, although the computer is his weapon.

Glenny says that the attitude of most banks toward cybercrime is ambiguous. Banks mask the extent of fraud partly to protect their reputations. Moreover, electronic banking saves them huge amounts of money, enabling them to hire fewer employees.

Often cyber thieves depend on bank staff to provide them information on customers and accounts. "If you can persuade a bank employee to hand over customer details, you can save yourself the sweat of having to crack the accounts or credit cards," Glenny explains.

The apostle Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus of Nazareth for only 30 pieces of silver. When he realized what he had done, he threw the bribe away, then hanged himself in shame. Contemporary cyber thieves have no such compunction.

David Yount is the author of 14 books, including "Growing in Faith: A Guide for the Reluctant Christian" (Seabury). Her answers readers at P.O. Box 12758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount31@verizon.net.

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