Global phishing scams – too difficult to stop?

A recent BBC Panorama documentary provides an insight into how global computer fraud works. The documentary focuses on one criminal organisation based in India who use phishing scams to extract hundreds of pounds out of their victims.

This is a good example of a global crime, and clearly relevant to both globalisation and crime and deviance. In this case the scammer-criminals are in India, their victims in Great Britain, America and Australia.

In the UK we get 21 million scam calls a month, 8 every second, and some scamming organisations can make millions of dollars a year from their victims.

The program starts by focusing on ‘scambaiters’ – individuals who play along with the scammers and film themselves on YouTube doing so. Some (who don’t film themseves) go further and use hacking to try and disrupt the scammers.

One of the people who ‘hacks the hackers’ calls himself Jim Browning on YouTube – the video below give you an idea of what he does!

He seems to be quite a successful anti-hacker – he’s gained control of one call center’s security cameras and managed to record details of 70 000 scam calls.

How the scams work

The scammers in call centers in India take control of people’s computers, and freeze them. A pop up window then tells them their computer has been infected with a virus, and their security compromised, as well as providing a a ‘Microsoft’ (or something similar) number to call to fix the problem.

The scammers in the call center (NOT working for Microsoft) then tell their victims their computer is infected, that their money is at risk and charge them hundreds of pounds to ‘remove’ the ‘viruses’

Police in the UK get around 50 000 reports every year of Indian scams, and police in the UK have successfully worked with police in India to shut down several call centers, but there are many more that have not been shut down, and some of those that do will re-open shortly afterwards in a slightly different location.

High reward and low risk…

For the scammers it would seem there is a lot of potential reward ($10s of thousands) and very little risk of getting caught or punished.

Part of the reason for the low prosecution rates is that the police in India need complaints from victims in the UK (or wherever they may be based) in order to take action against a call center.

All of this further complicated by international payment companies not doing enough to restrict illegal business operations – the documentary uses evidence collected by Jim Browning to track one guy (Amit Chauhan) running an illegal call center who uses PayPal to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars every month from his victims, despite PayPal being aware of the allegations against the scammer.

Final thoughts… to difficult to police?

The documentary ends on a rather depressing note – the guy above hasn’t been prosecuted, and it seems this is going to be an ongoing problem for years to come….

No Third Runway @ Heathrow – a nice illustration of the complexities of globalisation

the third runway at Heathrow, shows the evolution of green crime and the complex nature of globalisation.

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport have been ruled illegal by the court of appeal because they are not compatible with the UK’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The UK government signed up to the zero-carbon by 2050 target as part of the recent Paris agreement, and now that it’s ratified any future national development plans must be as close to carbon neutral as possible.

Ministers have two choices now. They can withdraw the whole policy statement or try to amend it to make it to make the proposed Heathrow development carbon neutral.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This event fits in well to the Global Development module and also ‘Green Crime’ topic within Crime and Deviance.

This event shows how environmental law, specially relating to climate change, is evolving. This ruling was the first time in history that a government project was declared illegal because of the future harm it might do to the environment.

It’s also an example of the paradoxes, contradictions or conflicts within globalisation – we’re effectively preventing one form of globalisation (flying) because of another emerging global norm – the consensus around the need to take action on climate change.

It’s a great example of the power of social movements – the UK government DID NOT take into account the climate impact of the Heathrow third runway in its initial development report, and it was a legal charity ‘Plan B’ which took them to the court of appeal, which then declared the government was acting illegally.

NB this isn’t an example of a global law – the Paris agreement is a treaty, the UK government voluntarily ratified it, making it UK law, and that’s why it’s binding – it requires the Nation State to have made it illegal to NOT consider the carbon impact of development projects.

Hence it’s debatable whether this kind of anti-development trend is going to become a truly global norm going forwards – the U.S. and China are hardly likely to ratify the Paris agreements, for example.

NB – we might still get more airport capacity, just not at Heathrow. Birmingham, following HS2 is one possibility for future airport expansion.

And pollution up north matters less than in London, so more planes up there probably wouldn’t be illegal, let alone a catastrophe.

Sources/ find out more

The Guardian – third runway ruled illegal.

Deported to Death – What happens to Mexican Migrants after Deportation?

What happens to those many thousands of migrants who make it across the Mexican U.S. border, but are later sent back to their countries of origins?

This is the topic which Jeremy Slack, Professor of Geography at the University of Texas, addresses in a recent book: Deported to Death : How Drug Violence is Changing Migration on the US-Mexican Border.

This is a book about people how are out of place, about people trying to claim asylum or people who have been deported – the book aims to humanize these people and get into the experience of what its like for them.

The book uses in-depth qualitative research methods to find out ‘what happens next’ once mexicans have been deported, with Slack using in-depth interviews and hanging-out in places such as Migrant shelters on the Mexican side of the borders.

Slack found that one third of people he interviewed regarded the US as their home. Many of them had put down roots in the US – they had homes, young children, no close contacts in Mexico, and no understanding of the Mexican system, some had been living and working in the U.S. for over a decade.

These people are really victims of a hostile immigration environment in the U.S. Ever since Trump declared a national emergency back in 2019, authorities in the Southern States have ramped up their efforts to deport people.

The number one federal crime for being deported is now ‘immigration offenses’ itself (which doesn’t have to be illegal, or dealt with harshly), the second major reason for deportation is traffic violations – people get caught speeding, for example, the authorities realize they are illegal and they end up in a detention center and deported.

Grey Zones

Once they’ve been deported, deportees enter a sort of ‘Grey Zone’ – they’re in Limbo, as they are regarded as criminals by the Mexican authorities while they try to challenge their deportation and gain the legal right to stay in the United States, which, following the introduction of the Orwellian named ‘Migrant Protection Program’ now has to be done from Mexico, rather than them staying in the States.

It seems like the chances of being granted legal access are slim – They don’t get access to third party rights A third of people interviewed didn’t have access to asylum, no lawyer if you can’t pay.

Some Mexican deportees from the United States become the targets of extreme drug related violence upon their return to Mexico.

Other migrants are subject to kidnappings by the police, with 7% reporting that they’ve been held against their will and subject to forced labour and torture.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This book has clear relevance to Crime and Deviance, especially critical victimology.

The decline of the nation state and the rise of anti-immigration attitudes

Globlisation has undermined the capacity of governments to govern on behalf of their citizens, because governments have generally preferred to do the bidding of Transnational Corporations. This means most countries now have a reduced welfare state, they are able to do less for their citizens. This results in anti-immigration attitudes and policies

Globalisation has undermined the capacity of governments to govern on behalf of their citizens, because governments have generally preferred to do the bidding of Transnational Corporations. This means most countries now have a reduced welfare state, they are able to do less for their citizens.

This in turn has led to citizens demanding that governments tighten border controls to keep other people out, so the declining resources don’t have to be shared with more people.

This is the view of Nira Yuval Davis, Director of the research center on Migration, Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London, expressed in a recent episode of Thinking Allowed on Borders, which aired January 2020.

For the purposes of A-level sociology, some of her comments sound like they’re coming from a broadly Marxist or World Systems Theory viewpoint, expressing a pessimist view of globalisation.

Globalisation, TNCs and Governments….

Davis starts off by pointing out that in the age of Imperialism, border regions were seen as fluid and shifting territories rather than fixed, which makes sense because imperial powers were always looking to expand their borders! The nation state gave birth to a concept of ‘homeland’ which went along with this ‘solidfying’ of borders.

She suggests that with globalisation the idea of borders became less important, with there being a dream of a border less world and global citizenship rights. However, this has never happened: there has always been global inequalities based on which country one originates from.

Governments have found it more and more difficult to govern on behalf of their citizens, but have become increasingly likely to negotiate with transnational corporations, doing the bidding of the international companies rather than acting on behalf of their own citizens.

This has led to a recent process of ‘rebordering’ – as governments can’t control Transnational corporations or the global economy, they shore up their borders to control people-flows, to ensure citizens that they have some measure of control over something!

The demand for governments to ‘defend the borders against foreigners came from below, from ordinary people. This was because neoliberalisation resulted in a shrinking of the welfare state, and hence a demand to limit the benefits to just those who ‘belong’.

Anti-immigrant sentiment: a response to neoliberal globalisation?

As a result of the above borders have spread out both internally and externally:

  • Externally = when someone from India wants to come to the UK, they have their application processed in a UK office in India
  • Internally – with raids on employment offices to crack down on illegal immigrants.

Citizens as informal border guards

This section has interesting links to globalisatsion and the social control aspect of crime and deviance

There is now an increased expectation on citizens to be informal, unpaid, untrained border guards and keep an eye on ‘who really belongs’!

NB it’s very interesting to think about this in the context of Brexit!

In recent decades the government has passed legislation that requires certain types of UK citizen to inform on people they think might be illegal immigrants – lorry drivers for example can be fined over £10K for bringing in illegals, and so are required to check their loads and get people off them before coming into the UK, and landlords are now required to inform the home office if they think illegals are renting from them, or face a fine of several thousands of pounds.

Negative consequences of tightening bordering controls

This requirement of informal policing has led to negative consequences – there has been at least one case of a restaurant being raided, illegals found, a huge fine imposed, and the restaurants reputation ruined, while the immigrants were later released.

And landlords are now discriminating by not renting to people who haven’t been born in the UK.

The irony/ paradox of this is that neoliberalisation requires the free-er movement of people for it to work, so there may even be a longer term economic consequence!

Outline and explain two ways in which the new media may be creating a global popular culture. [10 marks]

Outline and explain two ways in which the new media may be creating a global popular culture. [10 marks]

 Commentary on the question

This seems to be a good question – there are some obvious links between new media and global popular culture, and two obvious points can be made – contrasting the neophiliac perspective with the cultural imperialist perspective.

Neophiliacs tend to emphasise the positive ways in which new media, such as social media sites, are creating a global popular culture. In short, neophiliacs believe new media is creating a global popular culture characterised by more choice and individual freedom of expression than ever before in human history.

Sites such as Facebook allow people to connect with others who share similar interests, instantaneously, in any part of the world, and thus there are now thousands of new ‘global tribes’ – groups of people with shared interest, connect globally through social media.

New Media has led to a more diverse global popular culture – as groups who have been historically invisible and marginalised due to lack of access to the mainstream media have proved to be very active in their use of new media – there are many disable and LGBT bloggers and vloggers for example. In fact it might even be the case that the greater diversity and choice offered through new media has led to broader representation of minority groups in mainstream popular culture forms such as films and television.

It is also possible that new media is leading to a new consensus of acceptance of diversity and equality, as minorities who are oppressed in one country feel a sense of solidarity with those who are not oppressed in other countries, which puts pressure on oppressive governments to become more liberal. For example, it is harder for some less developed countries to keep homosexuality illegal, or to oppress women, when social media connections constantly remind people that such things are not acceptable in (typically) more developed countries.

Cultural Pessimists on the other hand argue that New Media is largely responsible for creating a narrow and homogeneous global popular culture which transmits the dominant ideology and distracts people from important political issues with a diet of trivia.

Cultural pessimists argue that the New Media are primarily own by four large media conglomerates – namely Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon – ownership is concentrated in the hands of these four companies and they use their platforms primarily to make a profit by selling advertising space – thus global popular culture mainly exists and is transmitted to sell advertising space and keep consumer culture going.

Constant advertising results in a very distracting experience for users as they are constantly bombarded with media messages telling them to buy things they don’t need, which creates false needs and keeps people confused and anxious, especially if they don’t have the money to buy the things they are told they should have.

Global popular culture is also quite narrow – consisting of ‘approved cultural products’ such as music and films which for the most part do not challenge the dominant ideology – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have even DE platformed some radical commentators from both the left and right ends of the political spectrum, for example.

Finally,  cultural pessimists argue that new media creates a fragmented, divided and polarised global popular culture as we are increasingly fed news from those we follow, rather than those we might disagree with, which creates bubbles or echo-chambers, which makes us less tolerant of those with different points of view.

The neophiliac perspective on new media

Neophiliacs argue that the internet and social media have been beneficial to society and individuals. New Media have created more opportunities for individuals to find information, offered individuals greater choice and freedom, provided new ways for people to interact with each other, and ultimately resulted in more people challenging the powerful and economic growth.

This post has been written for A-level sociology students studying the media option, AQA specification, and contrasts directly with the cultural pessimist view of new media.

neophiliac new media

 

Easier access to more information and advice

The internet makes it very easy to access a wide variety of information about almost anything, often for free. Some of the more obvious examples here include Wikipedia and instructional videos on YouTube and various blogs where many experts will provide their expertise for free.

24 hour news coverage from a variety of sources and the option to switch on instant notifications also makes it very easy to stay in touch with what’s occurring in the world.

Increasingly it is possible to ‘hack’ an education online, as many colleges and universities post up their learning materials for free (often lectures on YouTube) and there are various blogs around in which people have put together syllabuses which link to free information.

The internet also makes it easier for people to seek advice confidential advice and support for sensitive issues such as mental health issues, abuse and addiction.

Greater individual freedom and choice

Social media allow people the chance to construct new online identities and give them greater freedom to express themselves than ever before. Online, individuals can experiment with new identities in the comfort of anonymity and expand their personal boundaries.

Social media and blogs have proven to be an accessible way for marginalised or disadvantaged peoples to find a voice – there are many active LGBT and disabled bloggers for example.

New social networks and global connections

The internet has blurred the boundaries between the local and the global, resulting in the emergence of a ‘new global village’, with more daily communicative interactions occurring now than ever in human history.

The global internet makes it easier for individuals to make new global connections that wouldn’t be possible just at the local level or through traditional (one-way) media – as a result of social media sites like Facebook there are now thousands of new ‘tribes’ with millions of people interacting on a daily basis.

Social media apps also make it easier for families and friends to stay in touch anywhere in the world, and while nothing new, this opens up the possibility for people to move to other places yet still stay connected.

Challenging power and revitalising democracy

The internet allows people to access a wide variety of political opinions and commentary and to easily ‘fact check’ what politicians are saying, making it easier to hold those with political power to account.

There are thousands of blogs which voice radical political opinions which challenge the dominant mainstream neoliberal voice in the mainstream news.

The internet has also provided a platform for many social movements and allowed them to expand the reach of their voice and activism. Extinction Rebellion is one of the best recent examples of this, with many of their protests being organised via social media.

All of these points apply equally as well to holding Corporate as well as political power to account.

The growth of E-commerce 

The internet has made it very easy to buy all sorts of goods and services, and for very cheap prices if you shop via the largest sites such as Amazon.

Comparison sites allow people to easily compare the costs of utilities and other services, and to easily switch to the best deal, which is empowering for consumers.

Finally, the internet has also allowed thousands of people to set up or enhance their business – by selling goods and services online.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!

A useful Documentary illustrating Globalization – Mediterranean with Simon Reeve

This is a great resource for teaching some of the content of the global development module within A-level sociology. 

I caught the final episode of the BBC’s Mediterranean with Simon Reeve on Sunday night, and I ended up watching the whole thing! It may only be in the Med, which is relatively local to the UK, but nonetheless this final episode is so useful for illustrating many aspects of globalisation.

mediterranean globalisation.PNG

In retrospect I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at this: the Med is the boarder between Europe, the Middle East and Africa after all, so it spans three very different regions in the world.

The documentary series is available on iplayer for the next 8 months, so you can use it for teaching globalisation for almost the entire 2019-20 academic year.

I can’t speak for other three episodes, but the final one alone covers the following, mainly focusing on migration and environmental problems in the Med.

  • How over-fishing has led to the declining viability of fishing for a living in Tunisia and how this is making fishermen turn to people smuggling (destination Europe) instead.
  • The brutality of detainment centres in Tunisia – in which illegal migrants, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa are kept and effectively work as slaves.
  • The hundreds of square miles of plastic covered farms in Southern Spain which grow year round salad veg, much of which we eat in the UK.
  • The plight of the workers (often illegal migrants) who work in said salad farms.
  • The fact that much of the plastic waste from said farms ends up in tiny shreds in the Med and in our food chain.

Simon Reeves also visits Monaco, the world’s most expensive place, and comments that it’s a sunny place for shady people. He doesn’t seem too impressed by this tax haven for the undeserving privileged having spent the previous month touring around some of the less advantaged places in neighbouring countries.

Anyway, it’s a great documentary: very sociological!

 

Huge increase in Chinese students studying at UK universities – a funny kind of ‘globalisation’

The U.K. now issues more than 100 000 student visas per year to Chinese students studying at British universities, with the numbers of Chinese students studying in the UK increasing at about 5% a year since at least 2013-14

Chinese students are by far the largest non-European student group living temporarily in the UK for 3 years or so while they pursue their degree courses. The next largest university feeder country outside of Europe is India, but only 20 000 student visas are issued to Indian students per year.

Moreover, if you look at the stats below, taken from the Higher Education Student Statistics Authority (nice ring to it that!) you can see that Chinese students are the only group from outside Europe who are coming into the UK in increasing numbers. Every other country is sending very similar numbers now compared to 2013-14.

Now to my mind this seems to be more a trend towards increasing bilateralism between China and UK universities, and if anything evidence of stagnant or even a decline in the ‘globalisation of British Higher Education’.

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education module, especially useful as some quite nuanced evidence against the globalisation of education (IF like me you don’t think just two countries enhancing links between them is globalisation)

Problems of researching globalisation

Globalisation refers to the increasing interconnectedness of different regions across the world. Globalisation is one of the core themes within AQA A-level sociology, while research methods is a compulsory element.

It follows that the exam board could legitimately ask a question about the problems of researching globalisation. This post is just a few thoughts on how you might answer an exam question, which would probably be in the form of a 10 mark ‘Outline and explain two problems’ type question.

problems researching globalisation.png

Two problems of researching globalisation

The first problem is that globalisastion is a difficult concept to define and operationalise. Sociologists disagree over what aspects are the most significant and worthy of study – economic, cultural and political globalisation are all possibilities. There is also disagreement over whether it’s a one way or two way process and whether it necessarily means the decline of the nation state.

This partly stems from the fact that it’s such an enormous process, reaching across the whole world,

Even within one aspect of globalisation such as economic globalisation there are so many things that we could look at to study – such as TNCs, GDP, the international division .of labour, free-trade policies, the WTO and so on, that it’s difficult to decide what to select as an indicator of globalisation.

These differences of opinion over what aspects of globalisation to focus on means that everyone ends up defining globalisastion differently and researching different things.

This means it’s hard to make sense of all the research on globlisation, hard to make comparisons, and hard to escape from the biases of the people who have selected different things to focus on.

As a result, new researchers can pretty much find justification for researching anything in relation to this topic, which can make the study of globalisation a bit ‘postmodern’ and lacking objectivity, direction, clarity and certainty.

A second problem is that it’s difficult to get data from every country, let alone every region in the world. There might be lots of official statistics collected in developed countries, but this is not the case in less developed countries.

In poorer regions of the world, there might not even be reliable information on birth and death statistics, making it difficult to keep track of even the most basic information. Another example is that school enrolment stats in many regions of Africa are notoriously invalid as an indicator of how many children attend school – they may enrol, but many fail to attended afterwards, meaning such stats could not be used to measure the quality of education globally.

Stats might also be collected in different ways – categories of crime might be different in different countries, or not even recorded in the case of lawless states. Governments are also well known for under-reporting war-deaths, especially civilian casualties, meaning it’s a problem to measure trends in global peacefulness.

If you’re doing qualitative research to make global comparisons, some countries might be hard to access because of conflicts, or simply time it would take to adjust to local cultures and languages and it would be difficult to do research in several countries at once within an appropriate time frame.

This could be overcome by employing teams of researchers in different countries, but this would mean more expense, be difficult to co-ordinate and you’d have to make sure everyone is researching in a similar way, which, given the problems with defining globalisation, could also be a tough call.

The globalisation of education

Three examples of the ‘globalisation of education’

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective this encourages competition between countries – with each country trying harder to raise standards. The UK ranks in the mid 20s for most of the tests for example and so should be under pressure to do better!

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries

U.K. private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Related posts

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.