In the realm of criminal investigations, bunco is a boring afterthought.
While Hollywood delves into gritty themes like homicide and drug dealing, white collar crime continues to siphon a staggering amount of money from the U.S. economy. Every year billions of dollars are lost to crimes ranging from money laundering to ponzi schemes, from insider trading to health care fraud.
Most financial crimes go unheralded – identity theft is the exception. Instead of banks and corporations, identity theft hits victims on a visceral level.
Among the countless ways in which identity thieves target their victims, one of the most common is the illegally access of credit card information. Despite technological advances, the primary reason this crime continues to plague the financial system is Americans’ continued reliance on the outdated magnetic strip on the back of cards.
People who do not travel outside the U.S. may not be aware that the ubiquitous magnetic strip has been rendered obsolete. In its place are credit cards installed with the so-called “chip-and-PIN” technology. Computer chips embedded in these cards are then read by hand held devices before being passed to the consumer who then enters a PIN number. This is security a full generation beyond the magnetic strip.
The only roadblock to the full implementation of this more secure payment method is the looming economic powerhouse known as the United States. Almost no financial institutions in this country offer chip-and-PIN credit cards, though the system is practically universal throughout Europe, Asia, Latin America and across the border in Canada where it has a marketplace staple for years.
Because U.S. banks seem incapable of weaning their customers off credit cards with magnetic strips, any foreign hotel, restaurant or storefront catering to Americans must offer two types of credit card readers. As a result the entire world financial system has become a playground for savvy electronic thieves.
An article buried in Saturday’s TNT (5/11) highlighted the inherent vulnerability of credit cards with magnetic strips. The story detailed a recent theft of $45 million from ATM’s around the globe perpetrated by a network of hackers, many of whom were arrested by the combined efforts of law enforcement agencies from a dozen countries.
What is evident is that the current system is untenable. While the rest of the global financial community has moved on to the more secure “chip-and-PIN” model, the juggernaut known as the U.S. consumer has virtually neutered this upgrade by Americans failure to abandon the magnetic strip.
Unfortunately, this problem has failed to attract the notice of anyone in a position to fix the problem. Banks have proven unwilling or unable to address a variety of systemic issues, while politicians seem incapable of anything aside from partisan gamesmanship.
Since it is the consumer who ultimately pays for goods at the marketplace – this includes the costs associated with poor management, ineffectual laws and blatant fraud – it is perhaps fitting that the American consumer should be the one to address this financial defect.
How? By contacting the company on the top of the credit card, whether that be an airline, a hotel chain, a bank or even the credit card companies directly responsible for this problem.
Otherwise, it will be up to the least glamorous investigators, the bunco squad, to track down the steady stream of consumers’ cash after it’s already landed in the pockets of some decidedly unsexy criminals.
And by then it’ll already be too late.