The ongoing fascination with the never-ending opportunities of the Internet has taken free enterprise to unforeseen levels of growth and has led many down unexpected paths. This is something Richard Pinedo, 28, of Santa Paula has come to know very well in the last week.
As the FBI investigation of Russia meddling in the 2016 election ramps up to indictments and arrests, Pinedo’s online business of making fraudulent bank accounts became a much more serious crime when the investigation found that some of the fake accounts that he created were used by Russians to buy ads to influence users on social media. According to a Feb. 16 New York Times article, “Russians Bought Bank Accounts From California Man, Mueller Says”:
Mr. Pinedo “frequently” bought and sold account numbers with people he knew were outside the United States, the prosecutors said.
Several of those account numbers were ultimately sold to Russians involved in the election influence operation, the documents show. They were used by the Russians to open PayPal accounts and allowed the Russians to get around company security measures meant to verify the identity of account holders.
Here is the kicker: While Pinedo admits that what he was doing was illegal, he did not know who exactly were using the accounts or why.
“To the extent that Mr. Pinedo’s actions assisted any individuals, including foreign nationals, with interfering in the American presidential election, it was done completely without his knowledge or understanding,” Pinedo’s lawyer, Jeremy I. Lessem, told the New York Times.
Even Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel, agreed with Lessem that Pinedo did not know how the accounts were linked to Russian involvement in the election.
Author Walter Scott encapsulates Pinedo’s chosen profession perfectly, “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!”
When it comes to the Internet, it is becoming obvious that, beyond the standard viruses and fake news problems, there are so many avenues for corruption. It’s hard to understand why we still rely on it fervently. It’s obvious that convenience is the real culprit behind our codependency, but being in such a vulnerable position should cause us some serious reflection and even hesitation in trusting what we consume and engage in online. Even Facebook’s latest announcement of mailing postcards to verify that political ad buyers reside in the U.S. is a decision that seems so unreliable, given people who live in the U.S. can be paid to send codes to people who live anywhere in the world.
In the end, it all comes back to those who depend on the Internet for so many reasons. The virtual orgy of the information age is getting us into some serious problems, not just between friends and family, but even with contributing to the swaying of an election. Just what Pinedo’s future holds is unclear, but hopefully it will not include Internet transactions.