Paying Off Your Credit Card Is Letting The Terrorists Win

from the homeland-security dept

Recently, a Texas couple learned that making a large credit card payment would trigger the alarm bells at Homeland Security, which scans transactions looking for unusual activity. Eventually, because the couple weren't terrorists, the matter was cleared up. Bruce Schneier has a compelling column on why data mining, which works well for discovering credit card fraud, doesn't work for anticipating terrorism. Credit card fraudsters work in very consistent patterns, and verifying a case is as simple as making a phone call. It's not so easy to just call up a potential terrorist and ask whether they've recently commited wire fraud to obtain a dirty bomb. Data mining leads to the same problems that allowed 9/11 to happen -- so many red flags pop up, security forces can't know what's worth responding to. As anyone who reads a lot of blogs knows, simply adding more to the list isn't a good way to get information. Not only is separating noise from signal a problem, it's easy to confuse noise for signal, and go on bad information. Considering the time wasted sifting through data, trying to find what's good, and developing aggregators that give the appearance of relevancy, it's worrisome that Homeland Security is using a similar approach.

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  • identicon
    Brian, 9 Mar 2006 @ 8:20am

    No Subject Given

    What is really scary is that they are tracking payments like that... Maybe they should track several large payments like banks check large deposits.... Not just the first one!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      dataguy, 9 Mar 2006 @ 8:27am

      No Subject Given

      There are a lot of good reasons why our legal system should based on the presumption of innocence. DHS and the Bush administration seem to insist in re-learning these lessons the hard way. (at our expense of course)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        renderingsanity, 9 Mar 2006 @ 8:52am

        Re: No Subject Given

        We all complain about the government regularly, I catch myself often doing so. But what would we do in these situations? It is one thing to say "they should do this" or "that was a stupid idea." Now try putting into action what you suggest, or changing a system already in place. It is much different from the inside and much harder to find the right course of action. Instead of harsh critisism and repeating the sound bytes we hear on tv, why not run for office and make the changes we believe are so easily accomplished?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        dataguy, 9 Mar 2006 @ 8:54am

        No Subject Given

        This CSM article goes a good job of showing that tracking the movement of large sums of cash is all but useless when applied to current terrorist techniques:

        http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0308/p04s01-woeu.html

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        KGordon, 9 Mar 2006 @ 2:12pm

        Re: No Subject Given

        There are a lot of good reasons why our legal system should based on the presumption of innocence. DHS and the Bush administration seem to insist in re-learning these lessons the hard way. (at our expense of course)

        Well, since these laws have been around since about 1985, I don't think we can blame Bush. Maybe you could blame Reagan if you wanted to.

        http://www.irs.gov/irm/part4/ch26s12.html

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Mousky, 9 Mar 2006 @ 8:52am

      Re: No Subject Given

      What is even more scary is the fact that Americans are letting the government monitor their financial transactions in the name of security. The land of the free and brave? I don't think so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        dani, 9 Mar 2006 @ 9:54am

        Re: No Subject Given

        "What is even more scary is the fact that Americans are letting the government monitor their financial transactions in the name of security. "


        The government has aways monitored financial transactions of Americans, and for good reason...we are the vendors, consumers, everything that makes our American economy turn.

        If you purchase stock, don't you monitor the financial decisions of that company?

        The government's constant tracking of our finances (note: they tend to not care until the transactions are rather large or quite numerous) is a way for the IRS to monitor their investments. (especially if you own a business)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jan Christiansen, 9 Mar 2006 @ 8:47am

    Mining thin ore

    The problem with scanning credit card records on mass is that the signal to noise ratio will be so low: they are simply mining ore which is uneconomic.

    If data mining is going to be useful it has to start with information which is known to be associated with terrorists and build forward from there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jack Sombra, 9 Mar 2006 @ 9:33am

    More worrisome...

    "it's worrisome that Homeland Security is using a similar approach."
    More worrisome is that someone honestly expects homeland security to actually provide any security from professional terrorists.

    It's a burocratic and political quagmire lead and controlled not by specialists and experts in whatever relevant field but rather political appointee’s (aka "Yes" men of Bush)

    Only thing HS is good for? Making life difficult and terrorising the American people

    I could also say for giving people a false sense of security but imo only the dumb actually believe they are more secure

    Sad thing is it will probably take a dozen more 9/11's for "the people" to actually "fix" HS so that it does work

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Mike, 9 Mar 2006 @ 10:57am

      Re: More worrisome...

      um...we haven't been hit since 9/11 have we? Obviously, they ARE doing something right. You don't naively think the terrorists have given up do you? They have been stopped. many times as we now know. Its unfortunate our present administration has had to make public all the covert actions we are operating in order to defend themselves to the liberal media. Once again the liberal hate America media and those hypocrite morons in Hollywood doing everything they can to destroy this country.Who ever said HS was going to be perfect as soon as they setup shop anyway? it will take time to polish, like everything else in life. At least Bush did something, instead of humiliating our country with his intern under the desk, while the terrorists were plotting their deeds right under his nose. Too bad he has his eyes shut while getting his BJ's.That B. J. Clinton boy he was so great wasn't he?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2006 @ 9:35am

    for the greater good

    I'd rather have a small percentage of people suffer a month of phone calls from Homeland Security if it means catching people cooking drugs in a neighborhood with kids

    they may not exactly be suicide bombing terrorists, but it cant hurt to put away drug dealers either

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      person with a point of view, 9 Mar 2006 @ 9:51am

      Re: for the greater good

      Most people believe that terrorist are only those who directly kill victims, as in 9/11. What they fail to realize is that there are people out there that do transfer large sums of money all the time to benifit themselves (i.e. drugdealers) that doesn't directly lead them to killing their victim, but allowing their victim to harm themselves. I think that if Homeland Security catches any amount of drug dealers it's worth the few extra tax dollars that I pay to keep a little less drugs off the street. You never know whose life it might save.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Ugo Deschamps, 9 Mar 2006 @ 9:52am

      Re: for the greater good

      Trust me guys,
      Ive been working with RCMP (Canadian highest police) FBI and Interpole..

      Ive been working on a special project for a the National banque in Canada where EVERY transaction over 10k PER WEEK (all combined) trigers and event automaticly...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Jan Christiansen, 9 Mar 2006 @ 11:49am

        Re: for the greater good

        Ive been working on a special project for a the National banque in Canada where EVERY transaction over 10k PER WEEK (all combined) trigers and event automaticly... That is a result of the well publicized money laundering legislation and not some deep dark government conspiracy. That type of tracking is also done by Banks in Canada to watch for fraudulent activity in accounts which may victimize the bank.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Mousky, 9 Mar 2006 @ 10:13am

      Re: for the greater good

      I cringe whenever someone uses "for the greater good" as their argument for justifying government interference. In fact, I cringed twice with your comment because you mentioned kids. "For the greater good" and "for the kids" are two arguments that are destroying America.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      gh, 9 Mar 2006 @ 10:49am

      Re: for the greater good

      >I'd rather have a small percentage of people suffer a month of phone calls from Homeland Security if it means catching people cooking drugs in a neighborhood with kids< br>>
      >they may not exactly be suicide bombing terrorists, but it cant hurt to put away drug dealers either

      Because taking drugs are the same as killing 3000 people by crashing planes into buildings, or killing yourself and 300 others by blowing yourself up in a building?

      Keep your puritanical assumptions of right and wrong to yourself. At most taking drugs only hurts the person taking them, if they dont go driving or other irresponsible things.

      I have more to worry about from people like you who want to regulate other peoples lives than junkies.

      Oh! The children. Have to protect those innocent little creatures from heaven. If you care so much, protect your own, and leave others to do the same in the manner they choose.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Jon Zieg, 9 Mar 2006 @ 11:04am

        Re: for the greater good

        No Subject Given
        by Mousky on Thursday, March 9th, 2006 @ 08:52AM
        http://mousky.blogspot.com/

        "What is even more scary is the fact that Americans are letting the government monitor their financial transactions in the name of security. The land of the free and brave? I don't think so. "

        The governments been monitoring this for 60+ years. The agency that's been doing the monitoring is, among other, called the IRS. The government hand is in a tremendous amount of financial tranactions, from sales taxes, to permits fees, to tax returns, to liscense fees. (Is it right?, that's a another whole subject) It's probably no better in any other European or Asian countries. (Don't think for an instant that Swiss accounts aren't monitored, if you want to see a messed up banking system look at China) Just for reference, if you deposited more then 10,000 dollars in a bank at one time in the US. The bank has to report that.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Dani, 9 Mar 2006 @ 11:20am

        Re: for the greater good

        These are 2 different subjects here...no one said go after dealers instead of terrorists, more of a "kill 2 birds with one stone" type thing.

        Is a parent supposed to single-handedly rid the streets of drug dealers pushing to kids? I believe the government has a responsibility there as well.

        I don't have a problem with drug dealers, but I do have a problem with stereo-typical drug dealers, the ones shooting people in broad daylight on a neighorhood street and/or the ones pushing to young kids.

        "Keep your puritanical assumptions of right and wrong to yourself. At most taking drugs only hurts the person taking them, if they dont go driving or other irresponsible things"

        Most people, except the few responsible users, go out and drive while influenced. Sometimes they run from the cops, sometimes they get really smart and decide to rob something or shoot something.

        It's a parents responsibility to raise, educate, and protect their children. It's the governments responsibility to protect the entire American family from the idiots in the world who feel no need for protection.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Patriot, 9 Mar 2006 @ 9:41pm

          SAVE THE CHILDREN!!! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!!

          Is a parent supposed to single-handedly rid the streets of drug dealers pushing to kids? I believe the government has a responsibility there as well.

          Your hysteria has reached a new high Dani.

          You seem to believe that drug dealers are some sort of zombies, or vampires, running around forcing drugs on kids who don’t want them and turning them in to horribly disfigured criminal drug users.

          You want to make drug dealers disappear? It’s easy. Get rid of the demand for drugs.

          A parents job is not to rid the streets of drug dealers. As you well know. The parents job is to raise self secure, well educated, well rounded children who have no use, or time for drugs in their lives.

          If the kids don’t want drugs, they won’t get them. If they do want drugs, you can’t stop them. Don’t blame the dealer for your failure as a parent.

          It's a parents responsibility to raise, educate, and protect their children. It's the governments responsibility to protect the entire American family from the idiots in the world who feel no need for protection.

          As for the “governments responsibility” to protect the “entire American family...” the very idea of such a responsibility, or such a family is Orwellian beyond my most frightening nightmares. It frightens me to no end that that there are people alive who seem to equate the American people with children, and the government with those children’s parents. Are you getting kickbacks from W. or something? You are seriously frightening.

          You give me the creeps woman.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Paul, 16 Mar 2006 @ 8:44am

          Re: Re: for the greater good

          Frankly, most of the problems you describe with drugs are because they are illegal. I am sure you are familiar with Prohibition. It only made for rich crooks. The drug laws do the same. If you do not want impaired people operating motor vehicles, the laws against that have to be increased. That is not happening.
          But back to terrorism. What right does the government have to snoop in your finances without a warrant? Read the Fourth Amendment. It says the following:
          The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. They have no right to go snooping unless they have a warrant. The warrant needs probable cause. They did not have it when they flagged the credit account for payment. So no snooping allowed.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Chris, 9 Mar 2006 @ 12:20pm

        Re: for the greater good

        You sir, are an ignoramus.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Jan Christiansen, 9 Mar 2006 @ 12:52pm

          Re: for the greater good

          You sir, are an ignoramus

          When you reply to a posting where there are several posts with the same title perhaps you could identify exactly which one of us you are trying to start a flame war with.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        DS, 13 Mar 2006 @ 6:08am

        Re: Re: for the greater good

        "At most taking drugs only hurts the person taking them, if they dont go driving or other irresponsible things. I have more to worry about from people like you who want to regulate other peoples lives than junkies."

        Drug users are not just hurting themselves. They have a severe impact on their families lives and finances. They are also responsible for a large number of crimes such as robbery and burglary.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Not very bright are ya Annonymous?, 10 Mar 2006 @ 7:12am

      Re: for the greater good

      I'd rather have a small percentage of people suffer a month of phone calls from Homeland Security if it means catching people cooking drugs in a neighborhood with kids

      The laws were passed to 'catch terrorists'.

      Now you want it to to be used in non-terror ways.

      Good. I look forward to your support when it is used to catch tax cheats and later people who are engaged in unhealthy behavior when the government gets into the health care business.


      After that, how about enforcement of the government backed marriage contract?

      (And if you have been following the story, Homeland Security didn't call them. And, because of the governement cancelled payment, the credit card company ding'ed 'em $140 for late payment.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chris Maresca, 9 Mar 2006 @ 10:00am

    Tracking financial transactions...

    I've got news for all of you. Large financial transactions have been tracked for years. Any transaction about $9000 MUST be reported to FinCen, an agency of the US Treasury charted to supervise financial transactions. And that's not just in the US. All most all governments track financial transactions, and it's all coordinated through the Egmont Group. Great conspiracy stuff if you're into that sort of thing ;-)

    In Europe, Council of Europe directives require the electronic reporting of most financial transactions, coordinated through Moneyval. Unlike what is going on in the US, this is only indirectly controlled by the political process and the CoE is outside of the EU structures.

    That's not to say that any of this is bad, as there is so much volume, it's very rare for anything to show up other than egregious patterns. Also, most of this was setup to combat drugs, not terrorism. Part of the government's role is to protect it's citizens, and failing to do so can result in spectacular fallout (see Katrina), but implementing these sorts of tracking measures can also result in a backlash (see the recent NSA troubles). Damned if you do, damned if you don't and it's hard to find the right balance.

    Just keep in mind, if you are trying to hide from the Feds, keep your transactions substantially under $9k .... ;-)

    Chris.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    denizen, 9 Mar 2006 @ 10:08am

    Yes

    I work as the network admin for a bank. There is a program that tracks transactions as part of the Patriot Act. We had to implement it not too long ago. It tracks all transactions on all accounts on our mainframe. It also pops up red flags and the feds can access this information and review at will.

    Big Brother is Watching you...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      admin, 9 Mar 2006 @ 11:10am

      Re: Yes

      two points: first, in regards to poster here, can you clarify what kinds of transactions? Deposits of cash to a teller window are one thing; paying a loan or card balance quite another. second, in regards the original story, this has been bouncing around the net the past day yet I have seen nothing beyond the original story - no independent confirmation, no attempt to contact the card provider, etc. Its basically the word of the people with the balance that this in fact happened to them. Given some other recent things that were said related to patriot act that turned out false, I think it better to assume this one too is false until proven accurate. Sad, I know but there are too many people wiht agendas. That doesn't mean I like the Patriot Act, I don't.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        denizen, 9 Mar 2006 @ 11:34am

        Re: Yes

        Every transaction. From cash withdrawals and transfers to loan payments are recorded in some way.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        giafly, 9 Mar 2006 @ 11:48am

        Suspicious Activity Reports

        I suspect the Soehnges misunderstood, or were misinformed. Possibly their account was frozen as part of the fight against drugs.

        "Under 12 CFR 21, national banks are required to report known or suspected criminal offenses, at specified thresholds, or transactions over $5,000 that they suspect involve money laundering or violate the Bank Secrecy Act. Similar regulations by other regulators apply to other financial institutions." - Comptroller of the Currency Administrator of National Banks, "Reports of Suspicious Activities, and Bank Secrecy Act Compliance Program" - US Treasury, Google Search

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kip, 9 Mar 2006 @ 11:02am

    911

    i did not realise that it was data mineing that caused the three buildings at the wtc to be brought down buy professional demolition experts I thought it was professional demolition experts. maby you should look at whatreallyhappend.com

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wolfger, 9 Mar 2006 @ 12:15pm

    The root cause is...

    ... government thinks that it's better to act poorly than to not act at all. So until they figure out how to actually catch terrorists, they will continue flailing about madly to give the impression that they are doing something constructive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Mar 2006 @ 12:54pm

    No Subject Given

    I'll make sure I pay off my credit card before I hijack that jet and fly it into the John Hancock Building...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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