One of the real problems with many of the types of crimes addressed on this website is that the punishment does not seem to be harsh enough from authorities.
By this, we mean that the punishment for credit card fraud and other forms of identity theft are almost certainly not severe enough to put others off trying their luck. One aspect that falls very clearly in favour of the criminal (if caught and if the case goes to court) is that to many it is a ‘victimless’ crime. Clearly, there are victims. But because most victims will recover the majority of their losses from banking and financial institutions, there is a perception that nobody was hurt.
As discussed elsewhere on this site, clearing up the damage to a reputation and financial position can take up to 2 years. That does not seem ‘victimless’ to us.
For the police, if the ‘value’ of the crime is small, there is often little incentive to chase the trail and try and make a conviction. The media will often round on local police officers that chase small and often petty crimes hard, when there are murderers out on the streets. Because of this, there is a real sense that small cases waste police time. If that is the situation, then clearly adequate punishment for credit card fraud is still a long way away.
Are You Worried About Your Personal Data?
In researching this subject for this site, your author has read that many areas of the United States have semi-official numbers in place to determine whether they investigate a financial crime or not. It seems that offences much below US$100,000 will be unlikely to receive much – if any – attention. There is no doubt that a sound economic reasoning and logic underpins this number. The value of police time, court time and the cost of sentencing and imprisonment make small crimes unworthy of attention.
However, should you have been on the receiving end of this, and now be ‘short’ (lets say) US$80,000, it would seem very serious. It may be that much of this money would eventually be returned by the credit card company, but it would still be a very stressful situation.
At this point, it might be worth pointing out that if the cost of a crime is reimbursed to a victim, then that cost will be passed on to all customers in some way. This might be in the form of higher charges, less ‘free’ benefits and gifts or higher insurance premiums, but somehow we will all pay. This seems just as unfair as the cost being met by one victim, but this is the way of the world.
In contrast to all these costs, the criminal – if caught and prosecuted – is often looking at light levels of punishment. Why? No actual physical harm was likely to have been caused to the victim. These crimes rarely involve an assault or attack. There will probably not be any damage to property either. In addition, it might be that a substantial amount of the crime cannot be proven to have been taken by this criminal. That means that while they might have obtained tens of thousands, they may have only been caught in the act with a few hundred or thousand. The courts can only convict and punish for what they see and know to be true.
Tim is a freelance journalist who writes on everything from personal finance to investing and credit. He spends his spare time traveling, paddle boarding and working with local charities. He has a B.A. in English Literature from Oklahoma State University and lives with his wife and children in Phoenix, Az.