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Encryption Blog

Unluckiest Cybercriminal Ever

Created: 14 Aug 2008 • Updated: 05 Nov 2012
Doug McLean's picture
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It's been said that you shouldn't ever overestimate the intelligence of your basic criminal. One of my favorite cybercrime stories, however, deals with a perpetrator who was clearly smart enough, but was just unlucky...very unlucky.

In June 2004 Sharon Durbin was a small time crook living in Harris County in South Texas. She’d been struggling to find a way to support her lifestyle and thought she’d hit on the perfect solution. Using a stolen bank account number and a fake ID, she started writing checks against the bank account of one Chuck Rosenthal. For a while, her scam worked until one day she got a little greedy and wrote a check for $1,071. When the check cleared, Mr. Rosenthal noted the amount and the payee and determined something was amiss. Mr. Rosenthal, who had some familiarity with the potential loss from identity theft immediately closed the account and notified the Harris County prosecutor’s office. This last step wasn’t difficult for Chuck Rosenthal becaus the attorney in charge of prosecuting identity theft crimes worked for Mr. Rosenthal in his role as the...wait for it...District Attorney for Harris County. Talk about picking the wrong victim. Ms. Durbin was subsequently arrested and convicted of fraud, but not before she’d written 21 bogus checks against Chuck Rosenthal’s account and extracted a little more than $9,000.

Now it’s bad enough that Ms. Durbin was able to so easily steal $9,000 from a highly skilled law enforcement official. However, she also caused Mr. Rosenthal to waste days of time undoing the damage done to his financial reputation. For months after Sharon Durbin was convicted Chuck Rosenthal found it difficult to do business in his own name. Credit card payments would be rejected at restaurants and checks were rejected when he attempted to purchase school supplies for his daughter. As Rosenthal told the Houston Chronicle at the time, “It’s been a huge hassle. I’ve spent way too much time trying to get things straight with all these banks.”

Rosenthal’s experience is hardly unique. In Harris County alone four reports of identity theft related check fraud are reported every week. In fact, if there’s anything unusual about Rosenthal’s case was that he lost a bit more money than was average at the time. With international organized crime syndicates now viewing identity theft as their next big “business opportunity”, this is unfortunately a problem that will likely get much worse before it gets better.

It turns out that Mr. Rosenthal is also a pretty colorful character. Having been accused of racism, mis-use of public funds and other misdeeds, Rosenthal resigned from office in February 2008. Based on the number of ongoing investigations, Mr. Rosenthal may be one of the few people in the U.S. that would LIKE someone to steal his identity...providing they can provide him a new one in the process.