Is Phone Fraud a Terrorist Threat?

Hand holding phone receiver.Now we have a form of phone fraud that’s specifically targeting Canadians. Unfortunately, it seems to be pretty lucrative. For the full story see CRA phone scam uses fear of tax man to swindle ‘not so smart’ Canadians.

The real problem with this is the difficulty that police forces have in combating this scam, and many others like it. In all coverage of this sort of thing, we have local police forces saying that they have difficulty solving these sorts of crimes. The difficulty arises because the criminals are often offshore and they use the Internet to place calls. The more clever ones prey on the most vulnerable by faking Caller-ID strings to make people think a neighbour is calling.

It’s beyond me why someone doesn’t ask where this money is going and what its being used for. It’s easy to say that the calls appear to be coming from India, but the few times I’ve been able to pry information from scam calls like this, they’ve been in Pakistan. Northern Pakistan. Granted, I’m about to engage in “geographic profiling”, but it seems to me that if scammers are calling from a location that’s controlled by groups we consider to be terrorist threats, it might be reasonable to conclude that the money is going to fund terrorist activity. Is that a big leap?

The scammer in the CBC article says that they take $10,000 per day from vulnerable Canadians. It also shows that they’re extracting money in small amounts. Four prepaid Visa cards to pay off a thousand dollars. That’s going to fly right under the financial monitoring systems designed to track money laundering.

But doesn’t sending $3.5 million a year to a potential terrorist organization sound like something someone should be paying attention to? Why isn’t our impressive communications surveillance infrastructure being used to trace the VOIP packets used to make these calls back to their source? Why aren’t our voice recognition systems set to flag the obvious keywords used in a scam like this? Can we at least disrupt these sorts of communications?

Local police forces are incapable of battling this kind of criminal activity, simply because they don’t have the tools or skills available. Action needs to be taken at the federal level.

Photo credit: Martin Cathrae.

Information Era

Holy crap. I just discovered that in a digital era, relying on gatekeepers of reproduction to earn a living is impossible. People told me that being an independent writer / artist / musician / developer was going to be a tough way to earn a living, but still I held to my parent’s paradigm and somehow believed I’d get paid for every single physical copy of my work ever made. Now it turns out that I don’t stand a hope of being as rich as Stephen King / Picasso / Paul McCartney / Bill Gates, and that even to earn a subsistence living I need to find a new model for delivering value. But instead of dealing with this I will demand that you pay me for using recordable media for your own creative works, I’ll demand that we revert to an impossible outmoded system, while still begging you to send me money and whining that it’s not fair. I refuse to take responsibility for following my dreams / muse / passion instead of getting a job like everyone else. My failure to adapt is your problem, not mine!

Six Degrees of Redirection

This is a story of feature creep. We started with an idea that was truly useful: link shortening services. These services allowed people to take bloated SEO-laden links (like the ones on this blog) and reduce them to compact links under 20 characters. Perfect for pasting into an e-mail, even better for a length-limited Tweet.

But link shortening isn’t rocket science, and I’m guessing even the US Patent and Trademark Office thought the idea too obvious for a patent (I mention this only because that in itself is an anomalous achievement, but I won’t digress into another patent rant here). So competitors emerged pretty quickly. How do you distinguish yourself in the link shortening business? Simple, add statistics! (BTW “statistics” is the plain old boring word for “analytics”, which is a made-up crapword designed to fool marketers into thinking they’re not doing math).

Then after statistics, some brain cell thought up the idea of loading the target window in a frame, adding a “value-added” toolbar. Not that the value add was provided to the user, who got to lose a little screen space and not see the actual target URL, but for the person providing the link, who presumably could track minutiae like how long you spent on some page.

Next, services hopped onto the bandwagon. Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed aggregators and others all started adding a link-shortening, information gathering layer to any links posted on their sites.

So now we have a link on Twitter that goes to a short link generated by the author of the tweet. The author of the tweet has copied a link found on Facebook, which then redirects to a short link to a blog aggregation that goes to the bloggers short link that then goes to the post.

Six degrees of redirection. Each one making the web more brittle, more subject to the loss of an intermediary, less permanent, less connected. Every time one of these services goes out of business, hundreds of useful connections between content will get lost forever. None of this is good.

Audience: The Social Media Killer

I’ve been engaged with social media since forever. Always found it fascinating, even exciting. I really like Twitter. Now Quora seems interesting, but in a semi-social-media sort of way. There’s a bit of a shift happening. A lot of “early adopters” have been doing the Quora thing for a while and now it’s on the upswing of that familiar knee function of exponential growth.

Meanwhile, Twitter seems a little less vibrant. Is it because all the cool kids are playing with Quora? Partially. After all anyone with a real job only has so much time to dicker with this stuff, unless you’re a rare beast: a Professional Social Media Guru that’s a real job. So maybe Twitter is a little less shimmering with excitement because really interesting people are spending less time on it.

But that isn’t all. That only explains part of it. (more…)