Internet fraud is alive and well

New report says online crime complaints are on the rise

2 min read
Internet fraud is alive and well













By now, most of us know not to click on those links in unsolicited e-mails. But apparently Internet fraudsters are still finding plenty of victims.

The number of complaints reported to the U.S. government rose 3.4 percent in 2011, to 314 246, according to a recent report (pdf) by The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). The crimes resulted in financial losses of US $485 million last year.

And the victims aren’t just unsuspecting consumers, but sometimes sophisticated professionals you’d think would know better. The IC3 reports that law firms have been defrauded of millions of dollars in various debt collections scams. The firms are typically contacted via e-mail for help with debt collection, a divorce settlement or real estate purchase. The firms receive checks for large sums, usually $100,000 or more, from the alleged debtor and are told to wire the money, minus the firm’s fee, of course, to the purported client’s bank, usually located in Korea, Ireland, China or Canada. The original checks turn out to be counterfeit, and the law firm is out tens of thousands of dollars.

That’s a twist on one of the most common types of Internet scams, which asks for help in moving large amounts of money and sends a large check to the victim first, which tends to convince the victim it’s legitimate. Indeed, who hasn’t at some point received a desperate plea from a wealthy Nigerian desperately trying to transfer his millions out of the country. In fact, the IC3 reports that a court in Lagos, Nigeria, has granted the extradition of Emmanual Ekhator to the United States. Ekhator allegedly defrauded U.S. law firms of more than $29 million using such schemes. He is scheduled to stand trial in Pennsylvania.

The lesson here is obvious: if someone’s sending you money, be very suspicious. The government has set up a website to check for the most common scams:

Other popular types of scams reported to IC3 include:

  • Convincing a victim to pay for goods or services in advance, then never delivering.
  • Stealing personally identifiable information and using it to commit crimes (identity theft).
  • Posing as an FBI agent to defraud victims.

Apparently, people drop their fraud guard when an e-mail comes from a government entity, something that criminals take advantage of. Although the report says that “government agencies do not send unsolicited e-mails,” that’s not exactly true. They do, however, send unsolicited regular mail, like tickets issued when a camera catches your car speeding or running a red light. And few people will draw a distinction between print mail and e-mail. The IC3 got more than 70 complaints over a four-month period last year from New York state residents who’d paid traffic tickets they’d received by e-mail from a spoofed web address for the New York State Police. The e-mail told victims to print the ticket and mail it along with payment to an address that was supposedly a courthouse. It’s bad enough getting caught by those camera speed traps and being sent a legitimate ticket. How mad would you be if the whole thing was a fraud? Best to call the police before mailing it in.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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