I am extremely disappointed that I find myself having to write this post today. The reason is because I’ve experienced a series of events at work over the course of the past week and a half that have uncovered a deeply disconcerting problem with the strategy and approach both federal and local (Miami, to be specific) law enforcement agencies take in dealing with identity theft and credit card fraud.
Three (3) Miami law enforcement agencies dropped the ball this week when presented with what by all accounts appears to be a golden opportunity to catch an identity thief in the act of receiving a parcel that was purchased using stolen credit cards. The Miami Police Department, Crimestoppers Miami and the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Miami office declined to take action regarding an incident of credit card fraud despite the criminal making several mistakes due to either overconfidence and/or stupidity.
One of the retail websites I operate has a physical, walk-in medical equipment store in addition to the online storefront. I work out of that building (the retail medical equipment storefront).
The website associated with that business recently received three bulk orders over the course of the past two weeks or so. Since this website does not offer bulk discounts, while not unheard of, it is not a common occurrence for people to order eight of the same item at one time. The same customer was responsible for all three of the orders.
The customer, a Hispanic man from Miami, called us the day after the first order was placed to request a tracking number for his shipment. He did the same for both his second and third orders. He made payment in full via credit card at the time of placing each of his three orders.
The email address he gave us indicated that the man was affiliated with a business in a related sector. Nothing about the man seemed suspicious. That is, until the credit card holders started issuing charge-backs, with the funds from the transactions vanishing from our own bank account right before our very eyes. At that point, it was pretty obvious that something about the situation wasn’t quite right, and further investigation revealed that both my business and the defrauded, would-be customer had been victimized by identity fraud and credit card theft. That however, isn’t even the very worst of this story.
Unfortunately, the really maddening part about all of this started right around the time I decided to involve law enforcement. The identity thief and credit card fraudster had grown overconfident, assuming that we (my company and I) were clueless and would remain that way indefinitely. If his strategy to defraud credit card holders by using their electronic devices to buy several hundred dollars (and probably several thousand assuming I wasn’t the only business targeted) on merchandise that can be resold at a later date, it stands to reason that either the thief himself or someone acting on his behalf must be present at the ship-to address in order to sign for the loot. Otherwise, the shipment (and thus the theft) is of no value to them.
Well, I figured that since I had plenty enough evidence to justify a request for an arrest warrant, some law enforcement agency — either federal or state — would be eager to help see to it that this criminal gets taken off the street. After all, the likelihood is that this guy isn’t acting alone (two more fraudulent sales have since come through using a different name and a different shipping address). The evidence seems to suggest that I inadvertently uncovered the tip of the iceberg that is a major identity theft and credit card fraud ring.
Since the suspect was expecting a package from me, I figured I’d be able to just ship him an empty box while tipping off the authorities, who presumably would take him into custody when he went to sign for the package. Well, I called the FBI’s Miami office, the Miami Police Department and Crimestoppers Miami, explaining the situation to all of them and offering to provide them with the evidence and the tracking number so that they could go about enforcing the law. All three agencies declined to take the matter seriously. None of them bothered to get my information, much less take notes on anything I was saying. All three tried to pass the buck, with each referring me to one of the others.
In fairness, in the case of the Miami PD, there may have been legitimate jurisdictional issues involved in terms of their reasoning for not pursuing the lead. However, it is my expectation that a police officer help a citizen deter a felony by seeing to it that the citizen know exactly who is responsible for deterring such crimes and know how to go about getting in touch with that person. That said, at least the Miami Police were polite and expressed a desire to see the criminal caught. The FBI didn’t seem too concerned and the guy from Crimestoppers was downright rude.
I doubt that the thefts seem like “a waste of time” to the people and businesses on the hook for that money. That is especially true when the job of the guy whose time is being “wasted” is to arrest criminals and fight crime. Unfortunately, there is no getting around the fact that a diligent citizen who was poised to help facilitate the catching red-handed of an identity thief and fraudster was thwarted in his efforts to assist law enforcement by three different Miami law enforcement agencies that individually and collectively failed to lift a finger when presented with a golden opportunity to catch an identity thief.
Maybe it’s time to part with the model of government law enforcement and shift that responsibility over to the private sector. It’s hard to imagine big government and big law enforcement being any more dysfunctional than they were today when three different Miami-based law enforcement agencies failed to do anything about an identity thief whose cover had already been blown.