Should I call the Secret Service over credit card fraud?
January 16, 2008 6:14 AM   Subscribe

My credit card info was stolen by someone in Nigeria. Should I contact the Secret Service?

Two days before New Year's Day, I got a call from my credit card company asking me to verify some recent purchases. Turns out, they weren't mine. After some research, I learned that the purchases had been made by someone with a Nigerian IP address, to be shipped to someone in Nebraska, with a Texas billing address--I live in Virginia. Fraud department types at my credit card company and the online store suggested I file a police report. At first, I thought that was silly--the thief is in Nigeria. But then I decided that these people will never be stopped unless someone tries to do something about it.

So, I called my local police department. They told me to call the FBI, as they have no jurisdiction in this situation. After some hesitation, I called the FBI. They told me to call Secret Service. And then I quit. What does the Secret Service care about little old me, and the $7000 in purchases that I am not responsible for?

My question for you is, should I call the Secret Service? I've seen enough episodes of Dateline NBC to feel like something should be done about this sort of thing, but I feel naive in thinking that this small offense warrants a call to such an elite operation as the Secret Service...
posted by uvaleg to Law & Government (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The "Secret Service" is not nearly as elite as you suspect. Call them. In addition to the things you think of (protecting the President, stopping counterfeiters), they "also tracks suspicious people and investigates a wide variety of financial fraud crimes and identity theft" according to Wikipedia. It sounds like that's exactly what you need.

It sounds like you're trapped in a passing-the-buck loop, though.

Wikipedia Secret Service Page
posted by grumpy at 6:39 AM on January 16, 2008

Yes you should. The secret service is not just an elite presidential protection service. It actually belongs to the Department of the Treasury. It was originally started officially to investigate counterfeit currency. There were few federal law enforcement agencies at the time, so it had many other duties as well. And later, presidential protection was added. Oh, and correction, it appears that it now belongs to the Department of Homeland Security. But they still have jurisdiction over things money-related I guess, if the FBI referred you to them. Anyway, maybe they will be able to do something about your problem. Maybe not. But it probably won't cost you much effort to report it.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:40 AM on January 16, 2008

The Secret Service has a Financial Crimes Division and handles these types of crimes under the category "Access Device Fraud." I'd follow their advice on the website and give them a call.
posted by yeti at 6:41 AM on January 16, 2008

Calling them can't hurt, but this sounds like a standard 419 scam, and there's a good chance every law enforcement agency in the US already has a stack of complaints concerning these. You could always try to track down the other party in Nebraska; two victims in separate states might warrant a little more attention.
posted by bizwank at 6:45 AM on January 16, 2008

An IP address in Nigeria doesn't necessarily mean that the thief is in Nigeria... it just means that he has (possibly remote) access to a machine in Nigeria.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:58 AM on January 16, 2008

Please do.
posted by amtho at 7:01 AM on January 16, 2008

Yes, you should, though don't expect anything out of it. The SS will probably not go so far as to assign agents to your case to "solve" it, but your information is useful to them in helping identify patterns among other victims.
posted by mkultra at 7:07 AM on January 16, 2008

Probably wouldn't hurt to contact the Nebraska Attorney General either.
posted by Atom12 at 7:24 AM on January 16, 2008

gauchodaspampas: The Secret Service isn't under Treasury anymore, now it's under Homeland Security.
posted by awesomebrad at 7:34 AM on January 16, 2008

One billing period last summer I had nearly $20,000 in fraudulent airfare on my card, much of which was booked on Air Arabia, Emirates, and British Airways, and it didn't even occur to me to report it to any authority other than Citibank, my credit card company. (Which I did, and I got my money back and a new card.)

I made the fleeting assumption (fleeting because I didn't even think about it for some reason, but if I had thought about it, this is what I would have assumed) that Citibank, or the airline, would "take care of the rest." Citibank has to do some kind of investigative work, working with the airline (they came up with the flight details for each flight, including names and dates), so I figured that they would Take Care Of Anything That Needed To Be Done. Yes, I was a bit freaked out about the whole thing (and half expected to be detained the next time I flew, but that didn't happen) but I knew they couldn't use my card anymore, and that's where I thought my responsibility ended. Card numbers are stolen *all the time* (many times a day!), which is why credit card companies have entire fraud departments devoted to this sort of thing.

So to piggyback ... do you think *I* should have reported this to anybody? With all the airline sensitivity, any inquiries from Citibank would cause an airline to jump to do anything necessary, wouldn't they? Also, Citibank never suggested I report this to anybody else. They did the research and have the data, after all; if I called up the FBI all I'd be able to give them is my credit card statement for last August. (So I guess what I'm saying is no, *I* apparently don't think you have to report it to anybody, but am interested in more opinions or "real answers" from people who work in the relevant field.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 8:35 AM on January 16, 2008

I live in Omaha. If you need help from someone on the ground in Nebraska, email me. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to call the Attorney General's office, but you should know the A.G. himself (Jon Bruning) is extraordinarily incompetent and, now that his Senate campaign fell apart, has no real reason to do his job effectively any more. Good luck.

If you want to chase this guy down gumshoe-style, let me know.
posted by Sfving at 8:35 AM on January 16, 2008

What you should do is file a complaint with IC3.GOV. The Internet Crime Complaint Center is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. The goal of the IC3 is to aggregate all Internet Fraud complaints to look for patterns and help build larger cases against the bad guys.
posted by LightMayo at 8:50 AM on January 16, 2008

Also -- consider filing a claim with Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
posted by ericb at 8:50 AM on January 16, 2008

Jinx. LightMayo, you owe me a Coke!
posted by ericb at 8:50 AM on January 16, 2008

Going through this myself. The main reason to do this is that you will have a police report documenting the crime happened. Depending on the state you live in, you're now eligible for free credit report "freezes/tracking."

Also, if anything happens down the line, you have a little more documentation saying "at this point, this happened." Hopefully, you'll never need it, but (s)he with the most documentation generally wins.
posted by printdevil at 12:06 PM on January 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice... but my local police said I can't even file a police report with them! So who do I file it with?!
posted by uvaleg at 1:26 PM on January 16, 2008

you're now eligible for free credit report freezes/tracking.

Yes -- you should contact the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion and place a fraud/security alert on your credit reports. Alerts notify potential credit grantors to verify your identification before extending credit in your name in case someone is using your information without your consent.

These alerts last for 90-days.

If you are "active duty" in the miltary, they last for 1-year.

You can also obtain an "extended alert" which lasts for 7-years after having submitted a copy of a valid identity theft report that you have filed with a Federal, State or local law enforcement agency.
posted by ericb at 5:31 PM on January 16, 2008

Thanks for all the advice... but my local police said I can't even file a police report with them! So who do I file it with?!

What do I do if the local police won't take a report?
There are efforts at the federal, state and local level to ensure that local law enforcement agencies understand identity theft, its impact on victims, and the importance of taking a police report. However, we still hear that some departments are not taking reports. The following tips may help you to get a report if you're having difficulties:
• Furnish as much documentation as you can to prove your case. Debt collection letters, credit reports, your notarized ID Theft Affidavit (PDF, 56 KB), and other evidence of fraudulent activity can help demonstrate the seriousness of your case.

• Be persistent if local authorities tell you that they can't take a report. Stress the importance of a police report; many creditors require one to resolve your dispute. Remind them that consumer reporting companies will automatically block the fraudulent accounts and bad debts from appearing on your credit report, but only if you can give them a copy of the police report.

• If you're told that identity theft is not a crime under your state law, ask to file a Miscellaneous Incident Report instead.

• If you can't get the local police to take a report, try your county police. If that doesn't work, try your state police.
Some states require the police to take reports for identity theft. Check with the office of your State Attorney General to find out if your state has this law.
posted by ericb at 5:36 PM on January 16, 2008

If you get no where with the local police, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
"By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims' complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form; or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580."*
By all means, document everything. At the very least you'll be able to provide the credit bureaus with enough information to warrant a 7-year extended fraud alert.
posted by ericb at 5:39 PM on January 16, 2008

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