On November 7th, Richard Goldberg came to speak to students at Harvard Law. Goldberg is an Assistant US Attorney in Philadelphia where he serves as Chief of the Economic Crimes Unit.
Economic crimes, Goldberg informed attendees, range wildly from Ponzi schemes and advance fee schemes (e.g., the Nigerian Prince scam) to embezzlement and identity theft.
Drawing laughs from the audience, Goldberg employed colorful language to note that financial criminals are much harder to deal with than bank robbers and drug criminals. The latter may be extremely violent, but they know what they’re doing is illegal, and they know that if they get caught they’ll go to jail.
The economic criminals, by contrast, “are much smarter, can hire better lawyers, and take the position that ‘you’re not going to do anything to me.’” Getting white-collar criminals to cooperate is very difficult.
Most of Goldberg’s talk focused on the transformation of economic crimes since the mid-1990s as a result of computers and the Internet.
“When you used to run a scam, you had to find a person to run the scam on.” Now, finding such marks is a good deal easier because sending email and setting up websites are low-cost endeavors that target millions of people simultaneously.
“If someone walked up to you on the street and offered to sell you a Rolex for $100, you’d say ‘screw off!’ But, if they take a picture of it and put it online, you’ll send them your money. It’s mind boggling!”
Local law enforcement is neither equipped nor authorized to investigate most of these crimes, which are by their nature multijurisdictional and multinational. Our current system of investigation, however, cannot match the speed of this new breed of criminals.
“A case I had recently involved an attempt to steal very important trade secret information from a company in Pennsylvania via a computer in Holland. I had to call them and ask them to get the computer, but I had to go via the Office of International Affairs at the Department of Justice in Washington. They then sent the request on a special form to The Hague, where it gets forwarded to their local law enforcement, and they decide whether what happened is actually a crime where they are. The crime happened in an instant, but the paperwork took six months to get there. Can you imagine how cold a trail that is?”
Goldberg ended his talk by reflecting on current controversies surrounding privacy and government access to electronic communication. Emphasizing that his views were his own and not those of DOJ or the US Attorney, he lamented, “Judges are getting this all wrong.” Unlike a lot of older crimes, computers keep records of everything. Unless you’re very good at destroying information, we can get a lot of it back. While acknowledging, “Whenever someone from the government talks about surveillance and GPS and computer records, people start thinking 1984,” he insisted “we can’t have a system where only the criminals get the technology.”
“People don’t view privacy the way they used to. The courts think that the government is too fallible. I hope I’ve demonstrated that we’re trying to keep up with the speed at which these crimes are committed. All of you will have your identity stolen at some point in your lifetime. There’s a balance between privacy on one side and security on the other, and your economic security is being threatened by privacy concerns.”