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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 28, 2000. All rights reserved.
While the FBI took most of the credit for nabbing the
New Jersey programmer who launched the destructive Melissa virus last
spring, behind-the-scenes detectives like Peter Wolf in the
New Jersey State Police High-Tech Crimes Unit were doing a lot of
the forensic work. In the end, AOL tipped them off. "We followed
the Internet protocol address trail and identified the guy ourselves
and called the FBI," says Wolf.
Today’s law enforcement officials are becoming just as tech-savvy
as their 14-year-old hacker rivals, says Wolf, because the computer
is becoming a major weapon in violent and white collar crimes alike.
"The computer has been involved in every type of crime out there,"
says Wolf, who trained at the National White Collar Crimes Center
in West Virginia, the International Association of Computer Investigative
Specialists, and the High Tech Crimes Investigator’s Association.
"We’ve actually reopened a death investigation that turned out
to be a homicide based on things that we found in the computer."
Wolf speaks on "Protecting Yourself from Fraud on the Internet,"
on Thursday, July 6, at 8 a.m. at the Edison Clarion for the Middlesex
Chamber. Call 732-821-1700. Cost: $30.
Wolf, 41, spent a year in college before joining the New Jersey State
Police as an investigator in undercover narcotics, white collar, and
organized crime in 1977. Today, Wolf, a resident of Ocean County with
four children ranging in age from 9 to 18, has the kind of computer
skills that would make most network administrators and programmers
envious. Most of his technical secrets are applied to solving white
collar crimes, such as credit identity theft and sabotage, and breaking
up child exploitation rings, which he calls the "new wave"
Sabotage and fraud over the Internet are a real threat for businesses,
says Wolf, because so many companies aren’t operating on a secure
network. Hackers can spot these sitting ducks right away. "I could
run a scan on certain IP addresses, find one that’s running Windows
95, and use a program to which Windows 95 is vulnerable and break
in," says Wolf. "You have a lot of people who are stealing
Internet accounts with passwords and then using somebody else’s E-mail
account to make terroristic or harassing threats. Credit identity
theft is also a problem. There are programs that a 14-year-old kid
can download on the Internet that will generate a valid credit card
To avoid becoming the next high-tech victim, Wolf suggests the following
the virus definitions when prompted.
figures, and is at least eight characters long. There are programs
that will run through a dictionary to decode, says Wolf. "If you
put in a numeric value, the dictionary-type crackers won’t work,"
says Wolf. Don’t use your name, social security number, dog’s name,
or any other password that could be guessed by "social engineering."
fire wall. Constantly update software to correct vulnerabilities.
about law enforcement’s ability to stay on top of hackers and hold
them accountable. "I think people have a false sense of anonymity
on the Internet," he says. "A lot of people don’t think that
they can be traced, but they can."
Each year, businesses lose about six percent of their
revenues to fraud and abuse, according to several certified fraud
examiners (CFEs) with the New Jersey Society of Certified Professional
Accountants. Fraud can take many forms, ranging from lifting funds
from petty cash and goods, inventory or telephone and cellular phone
abuse, to complex bookkeeping and accounting cover-ups to hide stolen
monies, as was the case a few weeks ago when a secretary in a Montgomery
Knoll dentist’s office was sentenced to jail for embezzling nearly
$100,000 from her employer. Joseph T. Wells, a CFE, member of
the NJSCPA, and author of "Occupational Fraud and Abuse" (1997,
$99) estimates that the total cost of fraud and abuse to businesses
in the country exceeds $400 billion annually.
Small businesses can find such losses hard to recoup, so they should
take a number of measures to protect themselves against fraud. Perhaps
the easiest measure is establishing a system of checks and balances
for each of a business’ financial functions, says Laurence G. Thoma,
a CFE at Withum, Smith & Brown in Red Bank. "Don’t have the same
person performing all financial functions," he says. "A different
person should handle the billing, collection, and deposits because
alterations can be made to the records at any time. Don’t give employees
an opportunity to commit fraud."
Send a clear message to employees that they will be held accountable
for their work and any abuses, says Henry Fuentes, a CPA in
Ramsey. "The single best way a small business can protect itself
against fraud is good internal control," he says.
Trust your gut instinct about a person, says Thoma, and ask job candidates
to give their permission for background checks. Employers can obtain
police background checks for a nominal fee. "If there is a negative
feeling, follow it," says Fuentes. "Seventy-five percent of
the people who commit fraud will do it again."
Businesses looking for a forensic accountant can refer to the NJSCPA’s
"Forensic and Litigation Services Directory," available online
at www.njscpa.org/forensic, or by calling 973-226-4494.
If job advertisements that trumpet such claims as "be
your own boss," "set your own hours," and "earn money
quickly" sound to good to be true, they probably are. The Federal
Trade Commission has repeatedly found that business opportunities
like these are often scams, taking consumers’ money up front but failing
to deliver on their promises in the end.
Still, if you can’t resist such enticing offers, the Federal Trade
Commission suggests you at least do the following:
or refuses to give the information in writing, find another business
the business opportunity. Talk to each, preferably where their business
includes information about the company, including whether it has faced
any lawsuits from prior purchasers or lawsuits alleging fraud.
protection agency, and Better Business Bureau in the area in which
the business opportunity promoter is based.
is being promoted, if the business opportunity involves selling products
from well-known companies.
a complaint about a business, call the FTC toll-free at 1-877-382-4357
or visit www.ftc.gov.
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