Three Christchurch youths were sentenced to community service in the Christchurch District Court last week and ordered to pay reparation, on charges relating to fraud using the Internet.
The three students Joel Nathan Langley (17), Michael Richard Wing (18) and Aaron Maurice Langley (19) were sentenced by Judge Stephen Erber on a variety of charges including, attempting to obtain by false pretence, obtaining possession by false pretence, using a document, unlawfully being found in a building, receiving a key to a building, unlawfully entering a building and obtaining by dishonest means.
Detective Constable Sonja Currie of the Christchurch Police confirmed that two of the youths were sentenced to 85 hours' community service and ordered to pay reparation (of $160 and $1010), and the other youth was sentenced to 45 hours' community service.
Her message to people who use their credit cards on the Internet is to be wary.
"There are people who are hacking into Internet systems and obtaining those credit card numbers. People should check their statements regularly just to make sure there are no foreign transactions against their credit card number, and if there are they should contact their bank immediately."
Currie did not want to detail how the fraud works - she is concerned that such comments may induce copycat crimes - but she's talking about "reasonably smart kids".
"They tell their mates who tell someone else, who tell someone else. We know - with this group we found - there were more people involved than the people who were charged. It's probably just the tip of the iceberg."
She says the problem isn't in the transmission of the number, but the access to it once it is stored at its destination.
"Those numbers are accessible by people who know what they're doing. People using the Internet can become victims of this crime because people can manipulate things to obtain credit card numbers."
She says the youths were limited in the goods they could buy - because they couldn't front up with an actual credit card. They bought items like pizza.
"But regardless of what they're obtaining using these credit card numbers they're still obtaining things, which is wrong and it's an offence."
She says the people who commit these crimes know it's dishonest.
"Their perception is: 'We're not rippling off cardholders - the bank wears the cost. No-one's getting hurt'."
Some people in police and security circles have been disappointed with the sentence handed out to the three Christchurch youths.
New Zealand Security Industry Association executive committee member Shayne Bates doesn't believe the laws in New Zealand provide enough of a deterrent to stop people committing such fraud.
"I think the laws we've got are inadequate and there's a Law Commission review underway as we speak."
He says the judiciary, when faced with a crime like this, has to compare it to a traditional offence.
"There's nothing particularly dazzling about the fact that they did this across the Internet."
He says the software to commit credit card fraud is freely available.
"You can perpetuate a bigger scam now electronically, because you can do it with so little effort."
Bates disagrees with Currie about the danger of using a credit card on the Internet, saying it's easier for someone at a shop to steal the number than it is to hack into a system and steal someone's number.
* New Zealand Information Security Forum is holding a function today addressing electronic commerce and security. Representatives from National, Labour and Act will talk about their parties' policies.