Crime

10 Crime-Fighting Tricks the Bad Guys Didn’t See Coming

Real crime fighters might not have superpowers, but these tactics are the next best thing.

1. STOPPING TERRORISM WITH CUPCAKES

Back in 2010, would-be terrorists could download Inspire, a magazine produced by al-Qaeda. The publication ran essays on betraying America, interviews with leading jihadis, and DIY guides to crafting homemade explosives. But when readers opened the article “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” they found a list of cupcake recipes previously published by The Ellen DeGeneres Show. (British intelligence forces took credit for the ruse.) That wasn’t the only time terrorists got “cupcaked.” In 2001, reporters in Kabul combing through debris left by the Taliban found so-called plans for a thermonuclear bomb. The text came from a 1979 piece in the humor magazine Journal of Irreproducible Results. Step 1: “First obtain about 25 pounds of Plutonium 239 at your local supplier.”

2. CURBING PUBLIC URINATION WITH RELIGIOUS GUILT

While wandering through South Delhi, India, in 2014, Ranjani Iyer Mohanty noticed something odd: exterior walls and fences, adorned with Hindu deities. Was it an expression of piety? A celebration? Nope. The gods were there to watch you pee. Specifically, as Mohanty revealed in an article for The Atlantic, locals were using the images to discourage men from urinating on walls. In some places, the images were multicultural, with depictions of Jesus as well as Sikh iconography. Whether it worked, God only knows.

3. FIGHTING CRIME WITH WATERFOWL

Geese and swans are surprisingly fierce! Just take a look at their bills—full of serrated toothlike ridges called tomia—and you’ll see why. In fact, the birds may be better than guard dogs: They’re loud, aggressive, and not friendly to strangers. In June 2013, a man tried to break into a police station in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang, hoping to steal back his confiscated motorbike. He poisoned the guard dog, scaled the compound wall, and was met by 20 geese initially kept around for meat and eggs. They began to honk, flap, and raise the alarm. Guard geese are now being trained throughout the province.

4. ASSAULTING BAD GUYS WITH OBNOXIOUS BEATS

The United States military used hair metal to drive Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega out of his hideout in 1989. FBI agents leaned on Nancy Sinatra and super-cheesy Christmas carols during the Branch Davidians standoff in Waco, Texas, in 1993. More recently, however, British Merchant Navy vessels needed something stronger to stop the Somali pirates who got too close to their ships. So sailors mixed their bullets with some Britney Spears. While the pirates probably found the gunfire battle more toxic than “Baby One More Time,” the footage definitely makes for one of the strangest music videos you’ll ever see.

(YouTube link)

5. CURBING DISTRACTIONS WITH PANHANDLERS

Every city has homeless people. And some of those folks will panhandle where they are likely to be seen (and helped) by drivers, like intersections and highway off-ramps. But police in Ottawa, Canada, noticed how drivers had stopped paying attention—tuning out the homeless in their midst. Cops took advantage of…

18 Surprising Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen

Most people have already been victims of the most basic forms of identity theft — having fraudulent charges on your credit card. Those even less lucky have been victimized in more aggressive ways, with criminals obtaining medical care, working, and flying in our names.

Unwinding that mess can take years and thousands of dollars. The effect is exacerbated by the fact that the crime doesn’t generally stop with the one person who stole your information. Credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and other data gets packaged and sold on the underground Internet so that different people all over the world could be impersonating you at the same time.

“It’s a pain. It does cause a lot of stress,” said Lindsay Bartsh, of San Rafael, California, who said that straightening out a web of fraudulent medical bills, flights, job applications, and credit applications took every minute of her free time for a year.

How does it happen? Here’s a look at both the most common ways thieves steal our data, as well as some of the newest ploys to watch out for.

1. Mail Theft

Bartsh believes this time-honored tactic is how her personal information got out into the criminal underworld. An expected W-2 tax form never arrived. Assuming it was stolen, it would have given thieves a wealth of information, such as Social Security number and workplace.

2. Database Hacks

When a large corporation gets hacked, the effect can be widespread. When the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management was breached, some 22 million people had their personal information exposed. (I was one of the many who received a warning about this, because I had a writing contract with a government agency.)

3. Malicious Software

If you have a virus on your computer, you may suffer more than a slowdown or a system crash. Some malicious programs that spread as viruses record every keystroke you type, allowing thieves to find out your online banking username and password. These programs can infect your mobile phone as well as your computer.

4. Search Engine Poisoning

This is a sneaky way of tricking people into giving up their own personal data, or getting malicious software onto a person’s computer. The criminals create a fake website similar to a real one, or that could plausibly be a real one.

One tactic is for you to click through to the fake site and try to buy a product, entering your credit card or debit card number. Another way they try to get you is for you to unknowingly download information-stealing software onto your computer.

Where does the search engine part come in? These criminals manipulate Google and other search engines’ algorithms to get their phony sites ranked high in search listings, leading users to believe they must be legit. Fortunately, Google has made progress in preventing this in recent years, but it still happens.

5. Phishing

Phishing is a term that broadly means “fishing” for personal information through a variety of common social interactions — so-called “social engineering.” The most common phishing attack happens when you get an email that looks like it came from your bank or another legitimate company. It may come with an alarming subject line, such as “overdraft warning” or “your order has shipped.” When you click a link in the email, you may see a login screen identical to your normal login, which will trick you into entering your username and password. You could also be asked for more identifying details, such as Social Security number and account number.

Fortunately, banks have put some countermeasures into place to fight phishing. You can also protect yourself by not responding directly to incoming messages. If you get an email that looks like it’s from your bank, type your bank address into your browser instead of clicking the link, sign in, and check your account’s message center. Or just call your bank’s customer service number.

6. Phone Attacks

The Internal Revenue Service has been warning for several years that scammers are calling people claiming to be the…