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Terrorism and Identity Theft

Although the connection between terrorism and identity theft might not be immediately apparent, it is very real and threatening.

In his testimony of September 9, 2003, before the Senate Committee on Finance regarding the homeland security and terrorism threat from document fraud, identity theft, and Social Security number misuse, FBI acting Assistant Director of the Counterterrorism Division John S. Pitole said, “Advances in computer hardware and software, along with the growth of the Internet, have significantly increased the role that identity theft plays in crime. For example, the skill and time needed to produce high-quality counterfeit documents has been reduced to the point that nearly anyone can be an expert. Criminals and terrorists are now using the same multimedia software used by professional graphic artists. Today’s software allows novices to easily manipulate images and fonts, allowing them to produce high-quality counterfeit documents. The tremendous growth of the Internet, the accessibility it provides to such an immense audience, coupled with the anonymity it allows result in otherwise traditional fraud schemes becoming magnified when the Internet is utilized as part of the scheme. This is particularly true with identity theft–related crimes. Computer intrusions into the databases of credit card companies, financial institutions, online businesses, etc., to obtain credit card or other identification information for individuals have launched countless identity theft–related crimes.

“The methods used to finance terrorism range from the highly sophisticated to the most basic. There is virtually no financing method that has not at some level been exploited by these groups. Identity theft is a key catalyst fueling many of these methods. For example, an Al-Qaeda terrorist cell in Spain used stolen credit cards in fictitious sales scams and for numerous other purchases for the cell. They kept purchases below amounts where identification would be presented. They also used stolen telephone and credit cards for communications back to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, etc. Extensive use of false passports and travel documents were used to open bank accounts where money for the mujahadin movement was sent to and from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.”

When Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was described in the 9/11 Commission Report as the “principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” on the United States, was captured in 2003, his laptop contained more than a thousand stolen credit card numbers.

According to a report on Identity Theft & Terrorism prepared by the Democratic Staff of the Homeland Security Committee in 2005, “Terrorists also steal identity information to gain access to credit or cash that can be used to finance their operations.”

Patriot Act

A particularly insidious identity theft scam used the Patriot Act as a ruse to get your personal financial information. Again, it started with an e-mail, this time purporting to be from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which said that then Department of Home-land Security Director Tom Ridge had notified the FDIC to suspend all deposit insurance on your bank accounts due to possible violations of the Patriot Act. After luring you into the trap, the criminal sending the e-mail then indicated within the e-mail that all your FDIC insurance would be suspended until you provided verification of personal financial information, such as your bank account numbers.

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