Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why is Fraud so Easily Committed in Comics?

Spoilers Ahead

Batman R.I.P. by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel (2008)

Comic books are known for the often convoluted and extreme nature of their villainous machinations. Since the early days when Batman would primarily bring ordinary street thugs to justice, criminals have become increasingly more imaginative in their schemes to either steal money or foil their respective superheroes. Often times, these plots involve years of careful scheming, a collusion with like-minded villains, and a significant amount of expenditures in terms of time, money and physical effort.

The Black Glove recently attempted a psychological attack on Batman which involved luring Bruce Wayne into a nefarious sensory deprivation experiment years in advance, introducing a covert love interest into his life, and fabricating the return of Thomas Wayne. Norman Osborn, through years of work, is now a prominent political figure in the United States. The Red Skull recently attempted infiltrating Captain America's mind through a combination of fake assassination attempts and time travel (which Mark discusses here).

Despite all this meticulous planning and ingenuity, what continually surprises me in comic books is the ease with which villains seem to commit fraud. In fact, I don't know whether the banking system or personal identification infrastructure is just regulated much less than on real-Earth, but villains always seem to get away with crimes such as identity theft and insurance fraud.

Consider the following examples from recent literature.

Exhibit A: The Hunter

Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke (2009)

In Darwyn Cooke's latest adaptation of Richard Stark's novel, the protagonist, Parker, secures a fake driver's license and uses it to score a checkbook associated with a real bank account. He does this by going to the Department of Motor Vehicles and filling out a State of New York driver's license form with the arbitrary name, "Edward Johnson." He then steals a ballpoint pen, coincidentally being of the same color as the DMV's in-house approval stamps, and literally sketches the words "Paid, Nov. 6, 1962" in the space reserved for the state stamp. Finally, he treads from bank to bank, claiming to the teller that he had misplaced his checkbook and forgot his account number, displaying his fake driver's license as certification of his identity.

Granted I'm not an expert in the 1960s regulatory structure, but this seems entirely too easy. He did not actually steal a legitimate personal identification document from someone else, but rather created a false one on his own. This means that he also fabricated a driver's license number. Shouldn't the bank have had this information and have crossed-checked it with the account before handing out a checkbook?

Furthermore, I never knew that in the 1960s, the form that one fills out in the DMV actually also served as the license. Though, again, I am not an expert in the history of personal identification.

Parker's plan seems to have required a bit too much luck. He had to have used a pen, the color of which had to be nearly identical with the state stamp. He had to have been such a meticulous artist that his quick sketch of the stamp had to fool a bank teller, who likely sees driver's licenses many times a day. He had to find a bank that had an existing account for the name "Edward Johnson" and hope that the teller did not recognize the individual. And finally, he had to rely on the gross negligence of the bank to merely accept a name, overlook the stamp and phony driver's license number, and quickly dispense a new checkbook and disseminate the account number.

Exhibit B: Streets of Gotham

Streets of Gotham #2 by Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen (2009)

We've detailed Hush's latest plans of attacking the Wayne family here and here. To reiterate, his nefarious plan is to be charitable: he intends to invest $1 billion of Wayne funds a month towards rebuilding the Gotham City infrastructure and to shocking a lethargic economy brought down by the recession. Although devious enough, his plan suffers from a critical flaw: how, exactly, does he have access to Bruce's money?

Thomas Elliot (Hush) presupposes that just by holding a press conference under the guise of Bruce Wayne and announcing his intentions that he would be able to commit these funds. Yet, don't regulations exist against these very abuses? There are conspicuously no documents that Hush needs to sign in order to secure this transfer. There are no PIN numbers, credit card numbers or bank account numbers he needs to divulge in order to gain access to these accounts. There is no proof of identity involved. No nothing! Just by being a skilled plastic surgeon, Hush is able to skirt all individual protection laws and commit identity theft on a massive scale.

Does this imply that anybody could gain access to another individual's life savings just by looking like them? Could identical twins steal each other's money? Could Superboy Prime access Superboy's bank account? Could Zooey Deschanel book a trip to Paris on Katy Perry's tab?

Exhibit C: Incognito
See our post on Zack Overkill's attempt to commit credit card fraud here.

It seems as though the individual protections that exist on real-Earth to guard against the aforementioned infractions are negligible or absent in comic books. Perhaps it would save cities some money, individuals some lives, and superheroes some work if the United States government were to consider implementing such regulations. This is particularly true in a world where shapeshifting supervillainy is rampant. It is irresponsible for the government not to have done so already.

On the other hand, I don't recall Clayface or Mystique committing identity theft before.


Anonymous said...

In Cooke's book you see him swipe the form AND the pen from the DMV. This would have been all you needed to fake a license in 1962. They didn't think people would steal identities.

ShadowBanker said...

I just feel that the circumstances seemed a bit too lucky. Sure, he used a common name on the license, but seemed to be granted a new checkbook nearly instantly, after only visiting four banks.

Why didn't everyone do this if it was that easy?

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