I know what patriotic Americans reading about the lucrative feats being pulled off by organized cyber criminals in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere are thinking. Can't mobsters from the good old U.S. of A. compete in today's fast-moving global marketplace?
It's a sad fact that the West is lagging behind in giant-scale Internet fraud. But I don't think we need to lobby for a Five Families bailout just yet, especially if the Republicans capture the House tomorrow and kill Rep. Barney Frank's effort to legalize online gambling.
True, the other side has unfair advantages, including stunningly
corruptible business-oriented law enforcement and the lack of a Silicon Valley to siphon
off programming talent with high-paying straight jobs. In fact, some countries essentially sport a pre-fabbed mob infrastructure. Even legitimate enterprises typically hire their own mafia patron to negotiate cop-shakedowns and fend off other mobsters wanting handouts, so a greater union is pretty much the natural course of things once a hacking group gets big.
Going up against that sort of trade barrier, our wiseguys actually have done okay for themselves. U.S. prosecutors have said the biggest money-making enterprise in Gambino family history--netting some $650 million--was a combined pair of scams run by soldier Richard Martino. One was pretty straightforward: Enter your credit card number, just to prove you're 18, to see some free Web pr0n, then prepare to be shocked when charges from innocuous-sounding businesses show up on your statement. The other showed more initiative. Callers looking for free phone sex were tape-recorded saying "yes", they were 18, and then stuck with bogus monthly phone services. When regulators inquired, the "yes" was played back, this time appearing to accept recurring fees.
Mainly, though, U.S. mobsters have moved on only gradually from what they know, taking to online sports betting and more recently online poker. BetCRIS, serving U.S. customers from Costa Rica, has been controlled by No. 1 American bookie Ron Sacco, who the FBI says worked with the Gambinos. And even London Stock Exchange-traded PartyPoker, for years the biggest card site, grew to dominance with the help of a key player in Martino's scams who avoided prosecution.
PartyPoker founder Ruth Parasol, another veteran of sketchy 1-900 and Web sex outfits, recommended her friend for the job, I've reported elsewhere.
So bettors shouldn't be stunned if they fall prey to cheating on online sites, or are unknowingly matched up against robots, or simply find that the site they put deposits in has disappeared. All of those things have already happened, and they will keep happening at least until online gambling is legalized and regulated. Because that no longer appears to be in the offing, our mobsters should continue to prosper. Now they just need to reinvest, diversify and pursue win-win partnering opportunities. Let's get those business-school applications in, people.