Will Legacy Paper Save Us From Electronic Fraud?

By Doug Mohney September 21, 2016

Voting in the 2016 elections may be under threat from hacking, with the FBI worried about interference by a foreign power.  Every day, I and tens of thousands of other Americans get robot phone calls from the “IRS” saying we're under immediate threat of being sued due to failure to pay back taxes.  As we move to a paperless society, paper might be the only thing to protect us – and isn't that ironic?

Let's deal with the basics of robo-calls and live demands for money.  The Internal Revenue Service, as well as most state and local governments, seem to be sticking with the time-honored tradition of sending you one or more pieces of paper through the U.S. Postal Service should you owe them anything, be it taxes, money for unpaid parking tickets and/or summons to appear in court. 

It bears repeating to your relatives, friends, and neighbors:  If the IRS or any other government agency says you owe them money, they always send paper multiple times. They will send more paper if they want to bring you into court, giving you plenty of notice beforehand.  And tax payment won't be requested via iTunes gift cards, prepaid credit cards, and other types of gift cards, or via wire transfers or bank deposits.

One could argue that the U.S. Post Service is now more “secure” than ever before thanks to the much lower cost of email and VoIP hacking.  Criminals no longer have to get mailing lists, buy paper and postage, and print things up in order to swindle.  Further, the penalties for mail fraud are quite clear with a dedicated law enforcement arm – the federal U.S. Postal Inspection Service – that goes after criminals who use the U.S. mail to get funds.

Criminals can simply avoid being hunted by the feds by not using the mail. Electronic fraud, so long as it stays electronic and doesn't run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per incident, weaves its way past local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that place priority on physical events.  If your car is broken into, there's a clear path for police action.

Get an off-shore VoIP call saying you owe the IRS money, wire them “payment” and the waters are much murkier.   The IRS, in an August notice, says you can report fraud to the Treasury Inspector General via phone call or web page along with a second report to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.  We don't have a dedicated “cyber police force” to go after electronic fraud.

Concerns about electronic voting are going to go up as we approach November. Paperless voting without paper backup is used heavily in Pennsylvania and Georgia.  Florida and Virginia are phasing out paperless voting and moving to paper-logging systems, providing a backup and audit trail in case of a need for a recount in a contested election. 

For example, Virginia uses optically scanned ballets – fill in the dots on a piece of a paper, feed it to a scanner for counting, with paper secured in a lock box once scanned.  Election results are easily tallied with the paper ballots available by both candidates for review and recount should there be any question of the final results.

Georgia officials have aggressively defended its all-electronic voting process, but outside security experts have called for paper trails to be implemented.  Given recent efforts by unknown – but highly suspected to be Russian –- hackers to gain access to voter registration files in Arizona and Illinois, there's concern that such information could be used to disrupt voting efforts on the day of the election.

In a close election, a need to do a voting recount without a paper audit trail might prove to be highly chaotic and controversial, with election officials forced to verify systems under extreme pressure. States that have implemented a paper-trail style system are unlikely to have little drama and fewer questions of the final results.




Edited by Alicia Young

Contributing Editor

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