Monthly Archives: October 2016

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RKN Global on Corruption: A Struggle to Contain Human Nature

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Ronald K. Noble, founder RKN Global

Famous quotes are often immortalized for our perception of their truth value.  An observation that eloquently and accurately captures the dynamic of a phenomenon of human life is more likely to become one that is requoted, even to the point of fame.  One such quotation is the oft-quoted dictum of Lord Acton, the British historian: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

What Lord Acton’s observation highlights is that corruption speaks to something universal in human nature; given the right environment, it will sprout like a weed which is given ample water and sunlight to thrive.

Decades of experience in national and international law enforcement have taught me that corruption is indeed intrinsic to the human condition, but that it can nevertheless be combatted, through a combination of education, law enforcement, and social engineering.

Corruption often makes headlines in the context of political leaders; indeed, this is a real phenomenon and a legitimate concern, but it is not limited to political leaders or people of power.  Merriam-Webster dictionary, for example, defines corruption as “impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle,” and “inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery)”.  Corruption’s scope can involve political leaders, government bureaucrats, business people and management, lower level employees, athletes and coaches, and a host of other individuals and organizations.

The negative effects of corruption can range widely.  When government leaders and politicians engage in corruption, then resources that ultimately belong to the public are misused, misappropriated, or distributed unjustly. Business corruption can undermine the entities that management and employees were hired to serve; when widespread enough, it can eat at the economic foundation of businesses, sectors, and even entire economies.  Corruption on all levels can hurt individuals who are innocent of any connection to the corrupt behavior.

The range of corruption and its effects are as wide as the range of human activity. Combatting corruption requires tremendous thought, attention and dedication at all levels of society.

We will look at some specific areas of corruption and how to deal with them in future essays on this topic, in the belief that knowledge empowers us to improve ourselves and protect ourselves from the moral and legal rot of corruption.

RKN Global on National Cyber Security Awareness Month and the Range of Cybercrime

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October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, established in a joint effort by industry and the U.S. government to raise the profile of the dangers of the online world and awareness of ways to protect ourselves, our families, and our businesses. While a great deal of our previous focus has been on identity theft and identity fraud, it is important to emphasize the wide range of cybercrime.

RKN Global’s Ronald K. Noble has seen the devastating harm of cybercrime and urges heightened awareness and cooperation by the public and by authorities to combat it and its effects.

Other areas of cybercrime include Cyber-stalking, Revenge Porn, Online Bullying, Child Sexual Abuse, and Online Radicalization and Terror Recruitment.

Cyber-stalking is a form of abuse, often directed at a former domestic partner, involving different modes of electronic communication.  Email, text messages, messaging apps, and social media are used by perpetrators to harass, threaten and intimidate their victims.  Cyber-stalking can be a terrifying crime that destroys the victim’s life and well-being, and even leads to threats and bodily harm in the real world.

Revenge porn is the posting of pornographic images of an adult in order to harass him or her.

Online bullying, or cyberbullying, is bullying using technology to harass, humiliate, degrade and threaten another.  Like cyber-stalking, it can use the full range of electronic communication.  It multiplies the devastating effects of in-person bullying because of the public nature of the attacks online, because it can happen anywhere and anytime, and because it can be done anonymously.  Cyberbullying can have egregious consequences for victims.

Child sexual abuse includes the trafficking in child porn as well as the luring of children into sexual encounters with adults.  The internet enables and thus encourages the proliferation of child porn, and provides opportunities for victimizers to hunt for and groom their victims online.

Online radicalization is an important tool for jihadists, white supremacists and other holders of radical, violent ideologies to expand their reach and convince others to join their ranks.  News reports over the past years have abounded about citizens of various countries becoming radicalized online and traveling to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS and other terror groups.

Ronald K. Noble and RKN Global underscore the importance of vigilance by children and by adults in all walks of life in order to avoid and prevent the harm of cybercrime.

In upcoming columns, we will focus on some of the individual areas of cybercrime and look at specific ways to stay safe.

RKN Global on Fake IDs: Sophisticated Counterfeiters Require a Sophisticated Response

The United States 9/11 Commission Report alerted the world to the truth that “for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.”  The same holds true for criminals of all types:  The ability to move and cross borders without being flagged or identified is extremely important for criminal enterprises.   It is therefore no surprise that fake identity documents, including fake passports, are common.

A lot of attention has been focused on the value of many European passports because these passports can be used to gain free and unfettered access to the many European countries that are parties to the Schengen agreement.

Ronald K. Noble, RKN Global founder, has called attention to the danger that the Schengen open-border arrangement poses to the people of Europe, unless a uniformly secure protocol is established at all of the borders and access points to the region.

Yet criminals and terrorists use counterfeit or fraudulently altered passports from other countries as well. The arrest this week of a 22-year-old in Washington State in the United States for possession of counterfeit passport cards shows that any country’s documents can be targeted by criminals.

Officers arrested the suspect after receiving a call reporting that he was trying to purchase a cell phone under a fake name.  The officers found on the suspect seven high quality fake U.S. passport cards with his photo, all of them under different names.  He also had seven ATM cards which matched the names on the fake passport cards.

While reports didn’t indicate why the suspect raised questions in the mind of the store’s employee, the authorities related that the fake passport cards were of a very high quality.  It is likely, then, that something in the suspect’s behavior put the employee on alert.

U.S. passport cards are an alternative to a U.S. passport.  They prove U.S. citizenship and identity, and can be used to re-enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

RKN Global and Ronald K. Noble note the utility of a passport card in furtherance of smuggling operations or other criminal activity across the borders with Canada or Mexico.

The sophistication necessary to produce realistic looking United States passport cards is very high, which indicates that these cards were intended for high-stakes criminal use.  The cellphone retailer in this case is to be commended for his attention and watchfulness to the behavior of his customers.  Authorities are urged to do the same, and to screen identity documents at every border crossing with the most sophisticated technologies available.

RKN Global on Crime and Terrorism Redux: Illegal Cigarettes

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Last week, we shed light on how antiquities theft, a seemingly non-violent crime, is used by jihadi terrorists and organized crime to fund and further their murderous activities.  The connection between “non-violent” crimes and violent crime and terrorism is not limited to art and antiquities theft.  Another major example has been making headlines which exposes this phenomenon: Illegal Cigarettes.

Ronald K. Noble, before establishing RKN Global, spent almost his entire career in law enforcement and public service.  Through his work as Undersecretary for Enforcement of the U.S. Treasury, and as Secretary General of INTERPOL, he saw firsthand how illicit trade directly serves violent criminal enterprises as well as terrorism.

Cigarettes are a known danger to health, but remain immensely popular around the world.  A billion people worldwide are smokers, of whom almost 80% reside in low and middle-income nations.  The use of tobacco products like cigarettes kills about six million people each year, ultimately killing as many as half of those who use them.  As a result, many countries institute high taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, to both disincentivize people from buying them, and to help underwrite the increased health care costs that these products incur in the population.

Consumers don’t like to spend more money if they can spend less, however, and when taxes constitute a significant part of the price of cigarettes, smugglers see an opening to avoid taxes and sell cigarettes at a lower, tax-free price.

This leads to massive problems of illicit cigarettes in places such as Central America, for example, with 2/3 of smokers in Panama, and 1/3 of smokers in El Salvador using illicit cigarettes.  Costa Rica’s 16% of smokers who use illegal cigarettes represent 800,000 smuggled cigarettes being smoked in that country every day.

But Illicit cigarettes are not just a problem in developing nations.  A truckload of cigarettes purchased in Virginia and smuggled for illicit resale in New York can yield a profit of $2 million for smugglers, for example.

Who benefits from the proceeds of trade in illicit cigarettes?  Terrorists and organized crime.  The global trade in illicit cigarettes funds terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as violent drug organizations like the Los Zetas cartel.

Ronald K. Noble and RKN Global cannot emphasize strongly enough how the stakes of illegal activity—no matter how seemingly innocuous—can carry unseen and unexpected consequences far beyond the intent of the consumer.  In this case, smugglers literally make a killing off the sale of illicit cigarettes, in more than one meaning of the word.

RKN Global: A Taxing Problem: Identity Fraud Linked to Tax Returns

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The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently published a report covering the first several months of its activities in 2016.  According to the report, 42,148 tax returns had been identified by the IRS as fraudulent, claiming $227 million in refunds.  Of these, the IRS was able to detect the fraud 79.6% of the time before it issued a refund to the wrong party.  Nevertheless, millions of fraudulent tax returns were filed, accepted, and the subject of refunds from the IRS.  The bill gets picked up by the IRS, which is to say, the American public.

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RKN Global’s Founder, Ronald Noble, used to provide policy oversight to the IRS’s Criminal Investigation Division.  He recognizes the very serious financial and human price of tax related fraud.  Tax fraud is a form of identity theft and identity fraud that takes a very serious toll on real people.

Tax fraud is a form of identity theft and identity fraud that takes a very serious toll on real people; Kinsey Simpson was one such victim.  She comes from a poor family; her mother, who is unemployed, describes how the family “couch hops from place to place.”  Kinsey, who received an almost-complete university scholarship, had to work during the school year in order to make the remaining school payments and pay for food.   When she filed the first tax return of her life in 2014, she was excited about the prospect of getting her expected refund.

The refund did not come, however.  The IRS rejected her electronically-filed return because someone else had already filed a tax return in her name—that year and for the previous three years.  Someone had obtained her social security number—the only private information needed to file a tax return and get a refund—and received fraudulent refunds in her name.

Her identity was stolen and she was blocked from getting her much-needed refund until she could prove her identity and sort the issue out, a process which can take a year.

Real people, often in difficult and stressful life circumstances, are the victims of identity theft, including tax-related identity fraud.

Many victims discover they have been victimized by tax identity fraud when they file a tax return and receive a notice from the IRS stating that they have already filed.

Others discover they have been victims of another type of tax related fraud when someone uses their social security number to get a job.  The fraudster’s employer reports the income to the IRS, which finds a mismatch with the reported income on the victim’s tax return, and sends the victim a notice stating that the victim did not report all of his or her income.  The victim then has to report the fraud and go through the stressful process of clearing his or her name.

Ronald K. Noble and RKN Global have created important products to help people safeguard their identities, including a Cyber Identity Card (CIC) which allows someone to prove his or her identity online and in the real world with the reliability of a government ID.

As the CIC becomes accepted by more governments, Noble expects that it could be used to prevent tax related identity fraud by providing a reliable verification of a taxpayer’s identity that would rebut the claim of a thief who has stolen his or her social security number, leading to a much faster resolution of the facts and delivery of a tax refund to the right person.

RKN Global on the Power of the Stolen Passport and Identity Theft

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A young man was arrested this week in Australia for using a fake passport to withdraw $300,000 from various Sydney banks in one day.  His use of an altered passport to steal the money demonstrates the power of an identity document in the hands of criminals.

Ronald K. Noble, founder of RKN Global, has repeatedly cited the words of the U.S. 9/11 Commission’s report:  “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons.”  This is true of organized crime just as it is true of terrorists.

This week’s arrest in Australia is illustrative.  Police began suspecting that the man did not work alone, but was part of a criminal syndicate, when they discovered, in November 2015, that altered Australian and Indonesian identity documents were used to infiltrate bank accounts.   They have released CCTV images of persons of interest whom they feel could be helpful in resolving the case.

Terrorists and criminals need to be able to access and store (and launder) funds, to travel, and to live in the countries that they target and operate in.  An expertly altered stolen passport that can fool bank, airline and hotel employees into providing them with the resources that they need.

The arrest having just been made, the details of this particular scheme are still unclear:  Was its goal simply a large heist, a method of garnering funds for other criminal, or terrorist, activities, or some other purpose?

RKN Global’s founder Ronald K. Noble notes that the presence of CCTV images of other persons of interest raises the important issue of the role of facial recognition technology in law enforcement. 

If a sophisticated system of facial recognition technology were in place, as well as a systematic way of taking the images and verifying identity details of anyone entering the country, it seems that authorities would have a much easier job ahead of them in identifying the persons of interest in this—and other—investigations.  The very clear CCTV images taken of the persons of interest could easily be matched to their faces if such technology were matched with a systematic identification platform for the country.

This is in addition to essential and all-too-uncommon products like RKN Global’s RKN Pass, which can identify stolen, lost or fake passports at banks, airports, hotels and other venues.

RKN Global is dedicated to providing such solutions for countries such as Australia looking to sharpen the tools at their disposal to identify and catch criminal and terrorist suspects.