Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mugged on the Superhighway

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Mugged on the Superhighway

Article excerpt

Byline: VICTOR LEWIS-SMITH

Britain's Hi-Tech Crime Wave BBC2

A FEW years ago, I was handed a confidential report about the highly dubious membership of an American organisation.

Of its 535 members, 29 had been accused of spousal abuse, seven had been arrested for fraud, 19 had been accused of bouncing cheques and 117 had bankrupted at least two businesses. Three had been arrested for assault, 71 couldn't get a credit card due to bad credit, 14 had been arrested on drug-related charges, eight had been arrested for shoplifting, 21 were currently defendants in lawsuits and 84 had been stopped for drunk driving in the previous year alone.

Which organisation of criminals could this possibly be?

The Mafia? Or perhaps their Welsh affiliates, the Taffia?

No, it was the United States Congress, that self-appointed moral beacon of the free world. God Bless America, and God help us all.

When corruption is tolerated at the top of our global society, it's little wonder that a similarly indulgent attitude to crime trickles down to the lower echelons.

Playwright John Webster put it eloquently four centuries ago when he observed: "A prince's court, Is like a common fountain, whence should flow pure silver-drops in general. But if 't chance some curs'd example poison't near the head, Death and diseases through the whole land spread."

And nowhere is the poison spreading faster in our own century than on the internet.

Globally unregulated, and with self-enrichment as its overriding driving force, cyberspace is a lawless and potentially dangerous region, and Britain's Hi-Tech Crime Wave looked on Friday evening at how online shopping and banking in the UK is under attack from unscrupulous hackers around the planet.

Last year alone, bankcard stings cost the UK [pounds sterling]500 million, yet the problem is largely ignored because society just doesn't take white- collar crime seriously (as I found out recently when the police let me off with a caution after I'd strangled three vicars).

Curiously, the longer I watched this superficial investigation into online fraud, the less seriously I also took the problem. For a start, the interest rates charged on credit (sorry, debt) cards are nothing short of legalised robbery, and as banks are obliged to compensate customers whose accounts have been "phished", why not just sit back and let the legal and illegal robbers fight it out for virtual supremacy?

Nor could I feel much outrage over the story of Russian gangsters who'd targeted an online casino (thereby teaching the owner that his lucrative business was a bit of a gamble, and not the one-way bet he'd hitherto thought it was), and as for insurance companies being scammed, don't even get me started.

After all, they're the biggest legalised thieves of all, especially those who run ads on afternoon telly, scaring skint pensioners into taking out a policy to cover their own funeral expenses, a practice that seems unnervingly like having to pay, Chinese-style, for your own execution bullet. …

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