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Pleased to meet you. Won't you guess my name?: Reducing identity fraud in the Australian tax system.

CollectionsANU Centre for Tax System Integrity (CTSI)
Title: Pleased to meet you. Won't you guess my name?: Reducing identity fraud in the Australian tax system.
Author(s): Pontell, Henry
Publisher: Centre for Tax System Integrity (CTSI), Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University
Series/Report no.: Centre for Tax System Integrity Workshop: October 2002
Conference paper

Since it is not at all likely that Socrates could have envisioned the state of the world thousands of years after he wrote this, he most certainly couldn’t have fathomed that his words would ring more true today than at any other time in history. 1 Identity fraud is primarily a tool used to facilitate some other criminal act. Stealing another person’s identity (i.e., identity theft) does not even have to enter into the picture. As the September 11th terrorists proved, identity theft was not necessary in the commission of one of the most heinous acts in history. About a month before the attack on the World Trade Center, Abdul Azziz Alomari and Ahmed Saleh Alghamdi, two of the terrorists who crashed planes into the north and south towers, used an accomplice to approach a secretary of a Virginia lawyer.1 The secretary was paid to complete false Virgina affidavits and residency certifications. The documents indicated that Alomari and Alghamdi lived in Virginia, when in fact they were residing in motels in the state of Maryland. The two men later used these false documents, which were notarized by the secretary, to obtain official identification papers from the state of Virginia. These documents allowed them to board the doomed planes.2 They did not need to steal another’s identity, or commit what is known as “true person fraud.” The two men simply used false documents to misrepresent their own. The September 11th hijackers made wholesale use of fictitious social security numbers, false identities and fraudulent identification documents in their attack on the United States.3 Identity fraud, or the use of false identities or fraudulent identification documents has been the subject of much discussion, debate and legislation in recent years. In the United States prior to September 11th attention focused primarily on financial fraud, and retail and consumer crime matters. It has now been substantially broadened. No longer simply the tool of the con artist or organized criminal, identity fraud has the potential to change the world we live in forever. It is central to almost any criminal enterprise, including a number of cyber crimes, terrorism, drug trafficking, alien smuggling, and common theft. Identity fraud is one of the fastest growing, and insidious crime problems in the world today. It’s myriad forms and use in facilitating a number of crimes poses unique and unprecedented challenges that require not only greater planning, coordination, and cooperation within and among government agencies, but with those across national borders as well. Identity fraud is an effective crime tool employed by individuals, organized crime groups, and terrorists. It generally involves a person falsely representing him or herself as either another person or a fictitious person. It may also take the form of a person fraudulently representing themselves through the misrepresentation of crucial facts regarding their own identity. These misrepresentations of same, stolen, or fictitious identities are made possible by either obtaining (through theft or fraud) documents and/or personal data of another individual, or by the production of false documents themselves. “Identity fraud” is a much more inclusive crime category than “identity theft,” where one uses the identity of another to enact a criminal offense. By taking advantage of weak or ineffective identification and authentication systems, criminals have victimized consumers, credit card companies, government agencies, businesses, and entire nations. Numerous accounts link the growth in such offenses to the increased use of computers and the Internet. Given the accelerated pace of these crimes in recent years, one could easily surmise that computers have done for identity fraud what the microwave has done for popcorn. Information is more freely and widely available, and databases containing private information exist at numerous commercial and government sites. In too many instances, the security of these data has been compromised, or the information has been stolen, or improperly used. This can result from criminal activities by individuals both within and outside of the agencies and businesses that are charged with their protection. Adding to the mix is the fact that the anonymity afforded by cyberspace, along with technological advances associated with it, have both outpaced effective regulatory and enforcement schemes, and broadened the scope and possibilities for crime in general. Many of these cyber crimes are associated with e-commerce and involve the use of false or stolen identities. A number of academic studies, presentations, and official reports in Australia attest to the importance, scope, and nature of identity fraud, and various strategies for dealing with it. It is clear from both the U.S. and Australian experience at least, that identity fraud poses serious challenges and policy choices that generally center on issues of cost and control. While seemingly separate concerns, I will argue from a white-collar crime perspective, that they are inexorably intertwined and dependent upon each other. Finally I will offer some overarching concepts that bear directly on prevention strategies and means of control currently underway here in Australia, and elsewhere.


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