Using the bank's computers, a Union Dime Savings Bank teller embezzled $1.5 million from various accounts. He probably would have never been caught, except for a gambling raid that revealed he had betting up to $30,000 a day - on an $11,000-a-year salary.
This new kind of white collar crime by computer inspired several government officials and members of Congress yesterday to call for speedy passage of proposed legislation to help the government prevent and prosecute an estimated $100 million in computer-related crimes each year.
Testifying before the Criminal Laws and Procedures subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Abe Ribicoff (D-Conn.) said one of the biggest problems with computer crimes is getting the victim to talk about it.
"A gunman walks into a bank and pulls off a $10,000 robbery and the bank officials have no hesitation about calling in the police," Ribicoff said. "Nobody blames the bank for the robbery."
"But a slick white collar criminal manipulates that same bank's computers and steals $500,000 - and all too often the bank officials have nothing to say. They would rather absorb the loss than call in the police. They are fearful of the bad publicity."
Ribicoff said that under his proposed law, the bank would be obliged to report the crime.
The bill, S. 1766, imposes stiff prison terms and fines for criminals using computers and computer technology to steal or manipulate information, financial instruments and other property, Ribicoff said.
Punishment for misusing the computer systems of the federal government, certain financial institutions and other entities involved in interstate commerce would be 15 years in prison and/or a $50,000 fine under the law, which would be the first legislation aimed directly at computer-related crime enacted by the Congress.
But long prison terms may not be enough, as Ribicoff himself pointed out Monday in a speech in San Francisco. He told some 1,000 internal auditors that many prisoners at federal penitentiaries have been learning computer skills and then using their new skills to commit computer crimes - from prison.
In other testimony before the subcommitte, Justice Department criminal division official John Keeney said that although computer crimes probably cannot be eliminated completely, the Ribicoff bill will helf a great deal to limit the possibilities.