Technology and Crime - Fraud And The Internet, Viruses, Intellectual Property Theft, High-tech Law Enforcement

crimes computer americans child

New technologies introduce new problems into a society. Those technologies that became widespread in the 1980s and 1990s were no exception. Cell phones, the Internet, computers, and other forms of digital technology have fueled epidemics in identity theft, intellectual property theft, and other crimes that most people were hardly aware of in the 1970s. Brand new crimes related to advances in information technology, known as e-crimes, such as Internet auction fraud, computer hacking, and computer virus creation, have cost Americans many millions in money and wasted time. In Fear of Online Crime (Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project, April 2001), Susannah Fox reported findings from a survey conducted among more than 2,000 Americans on what they were most afraid of with regard to Internet crime. Table 4.1 shows that one-half of adult Americans feared Internet child pornography the most. Credit card theft (ID theft) and organizational terrorism came in second and third. Two percent of people were afraid of wide-scale fraud, and only 1% feared hackers attacking businesses.

Due to the nebulous nature of the Internet and high-tech crimes, comprehensive studies of e-crimes are hard to come by. Generally, the reports that are available can be contradictory and rarely include the effects of crime on both individuals and organizations. In addition, statutes are not uniform from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, meaning that criminal behavior that can result in prosecution in one country or state might be legal in another. Nevertheless, computer crime is increasingly being tracked and analyzed. According to its annual Cybercrime Review, the International Chamber of Commerce estimated that nearly two-thirds of all Internet crime in 2003 took place in the United States. Hacking and fraud were listed as the top offenses. Table 4.2, however, appears to confirm the fears of those surveyed by the Pew/Internet report. In 2001 child pornography transmission topped the list of e-crimes that resulted in criminal prosecution in the United States. Nationwide, nearly one-third (30%) of prosecutors' offices


Most-feared Internet crimes, 2001
SOURCE: "Most-feared Internet Crimes," in Fear of Online Crime, Pew Internet and American Life Project, April 2, 2001, (accessed November 12, 2004). Used by permission of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which bears no responsibility for the interpretations presented or conclusions based on analysis of the data.
Child pornography 50%
Credit card theft 10
Organized terrorism 10
Destructive computer viruses 5
Hackers attacking the government 5
Wide-scale fraud 2
Hackers attacking businesses 1
Another crime not listed as a choice 13

conducted cases against suspects accused of transmitting child pornography. This was followed closely by credit card fraud (identity theft) at 28% and bankcard fraud at 22.6%. Regardless of the differences suggested by various studies, all agree that crimes committed using computers and other forms of high technology will likely grow as the number of people using these technologies increases.

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