By David G. Bishop, Chief of Police, Beaverton, Oregon
dentity theft and fraud crimes are relatively low-risk crimes that can have high payoffs for perpetrators. Advances in technology have made personal information more accessible than ever, leading criminals to profit from sophisticated schemes related to identity theft. Combining these factors with limited police resources, it is easy to understand why identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America and the reason behind the creation of the Beaverton Police Department’s Identity Theft and Fraud Prevention program.
In 2003, with the assistance of $250,000 in federal grant funding, the police department created the Identity Theft and Fraud Prevention program and implemented a multifaceted approach that included the following elements:
- Enhanced investigative resources
- Community education
- Victim assistance program
Enhanced Investigative Resources
The department dedicated one sergeant and two officers to the new Special Enforcement Unit (SEU). The SEU was created to investigate streetlevel identity theft and fraud crimes with a monetary value under $5,000. Because of the SEU, cases involving less than $5,000, which previously had lacked attention due to the department’s limited investigative resources, could now be resolved. The SEU was among the first teams of its kind in the Portland metropolitan area, and its innovative approach has since become a model for other law enforcement agencies.
With the assistance of the department’s crime analyst, the SEU identified high-risk businesses, primarily large retailers, and worked with these businesses to enhance their ability to proactively address factors contributing to fraud. Businesses were encouraged to modify their customer transaction processes to include verification of photo identification when accepting checks or credit card payments as well as an inkless thumbprint system provided by the Beaverton Police Department for cashing checks. Criminals count on retailers to have a relatively high threshold for reporting losses and as such limit the value of the fraud they commit, so that the individual incidents are not reported to police investigators and the criminal can continue the fraud without being tracked. Therefore, the SEU encouraged businesses to report all fraudulent transactions, regardless of the value, to enhance police efforts to track suspects.
The SEU enhanced business partnerships by attending various community meetings and presenting information on identity theft and fraud prevention. Most retailers were receptive to the department’s recommendations for modifying customer transaction processes. A few businesses resisted the identification changes because they felt that the change would sacrifice their customers’ shopping convenience or the ease of spending money in their stores.
Most businesses appreciated that the potential loss prevention would outweigh the inconvenience and implemented the recommended changes. One success story is WinCo Foods, a grocery retailer that had become a susceptible fraud target because it lacked fraud prevention training and the accompanying systems and processes. The Beaverton Police Department established a partnership with WinCo Foods and provided important staff training tools; as a result, WinCo Foods adjusted its customer transactionprocess and now requires photo identification from customers paying by check. The company also altered the position of surveillance cameras to obtain better footage of individuals who cash checks. This repositioning helped identify the suspect when a crime occurred. Crime reporting also increased.
The SEU’s two-year statistics between 2004 and 2006 point to success, with $701,483 in loss prevention (bogus or stolen checks and counterfeit money), 494 arrests, and the recovery of $33,170. Another strong indicator of the department’s efforts was that the word on the street showed that Beaverton was no longer an easy target. Many criminals chose to go elsewhere to set up their schemes.
The department also dedicated two officers to an interagency task force, the Fraud Identity Theft Enforcement (FITE) team. This team, which investigated crimes with a monetary value over $5,000, comprised members of multiple county law enforcement agencies, a postal inspector, and dedicated staff at the district attorney’s office. All entities involved shared information and resources to investigate and prosecute fraud cases more effectively.
The Beaverton Police Department partners with the Portland Metro Area Fraud Investigators Association (MAFIA), a group that includes representatives from banks, police departments, retailers, and insurance companies. This group meets monthly to share information about cases and trends and is a valuable resource for all members. In fact, MAFIA meeting discussions helped the Beaverton Police Department solve a case that involved $126,468.
The program also included identity theft and fraud training for the department’s patrol officers, as these officers are generally the first responders to crime. Training the patrol officers increased their awareness of identity theft and fraud and enabled them to respond more effectively to such calls for assistance.
Having subscribed to the philosophy of community policing for more than a decade, the Beaverton Police Department recognizes the important role of its citizens. Creative community education and awareness were critical to the Identity Theft and Fraud Prevention program’s success.
The department formed a planning committee to develop methods of raising citizen awareness. A marketing firm, funded through the grant, assisted with the design and publicity of the program.
The department created two identity theft and fraud prevention booklets (one for citizens and the other for businesses) and distributed copies at various community events, including the department’s meet-and-greets at light rail commuter stations, where crime prevention information is distributed along with free beverages provided by Starbucks Coffee. Community resource officers are available to answer questions about identity theft prevention and the steps victims should take. The booklets are available in English and Spanish and are distributed at emergency services fairs, Neighborhood Association Committee meetings, and other community policing activities. Since mid-2004, more than 6,000 identity theft and fraud prevention booklets have been distributed. The department also developed press packets and distributed them to the media, providing information about the community education campaign. This generated requests for the department’s public information officer to speak on local radio and cable television stations.
Because document shredding is an essential method of safeguarding one’s identity against theft, the police department sponsors free quarterly document shredding events to promote and encourage citizens and businesses to shred documents containing personal information. A commercial shredding truck provides on-site destruction of documents. The department’s document-shredding events have generated 38 THE POLICE CHIEF/MAY 2007 an exceptional response. Between October 2005 and March 2007 the department sponsored 11 events averaging 150 participants, with a high attendance of 520. As an added benefit, the department asks would-be document shredders to bring food donations to the shredding events; more than 50,000 pounds of food has been collected for the Oregon Food Bank.
The department uses local newspapers and its Web site to advertise the free events, and the events have been the subject of positive stories in newspapers and on local television. The exposure has helped to educate more citizens about identity theft and fraud prevention and helps to promote the police department as well.
The Beaverton Police Department has conducted numerous educational workshops and presentations for the community, local businesses, and senior centers. Professional speakers are often involved, facilitating the workshop and providing information about identity theft and fraud prevention along with fraud detectives and SEU officers. Audiences have included small groups of citizens and business owners, who were given the opportunity to ask specific questions about their situations, and one gathering of more than 200 people listened to a nationally recognized speaker on the topic of con artists and their scams.
Grant funds allowed the department to buy newspaper and radio advertisements in order to increase exposure for some of the department’s larger events, and flyers were distributed at City Hall, the library, senior centers, and other public facilities. Announcements of upcoming events appeared in the city and the police department’s newsletters and Web sites as well as in a mass mailing to the city’s business license list. The goal was to reach the largest audience possible.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the community education campaign, the department hired a consultant to conduct surveys before and after the campaign to measure identity theft and fraud prevention awareness. The community awareness survey results are shown in figure 1.
Recognizing that the department could not completely eliminate identity theft and fraud and that the effects of this crime can be traumatic for victims and their families, the department knew it was important to provide assistance to the victims of such crimes and added victim services to the program.
Victim assistance services were launched in May 2006, offering one-on-one counseling, credit restoration assistance, and resources to help avoid future victimization. Identity theft and fraud victims, as well as those deemed to be at high risk for potential identity theft (such as people whose wallets and purses have been stolen), receive victim assistance information through the mail. The information includes the police department’s dedicated phone number for victims of fraud and identity theft. Specially trained Beaverton Police Department volunteers follow up by telephone and guide victims through the recovery process, helping them establish fraud alerts, communicate with financial institutions, and keep records.
Patrol officers also distribute referral cards containing information about immediate steps that new victims need to take, and they notify victims that they will receive a follow-up call from a police volunteer. In support of the department’s commitment to community policing, this enhanced victim assistance has increased police department–community interaction and raised the level of customer service.
The Beaverton Police Department designed the Identity Theft and Fraud Prevention program to address several areas contributing to identity theft and fraud crimes. From enhanced investigations to increased community awareness, and finally the addition of a victim assistance program, the program has exceeded expectations.
For more information about the department’s efforts to address identity theft and fraud, please call Chief David G. Bishop’s office at 503-526-2517, or send e-mail requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traditionally, individual retailers reported thefts to local law enforcement, but no uniform method of tracking these crimes across jurisdictions existed. Based on the concerns of the retail industry and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Congress passed legislation, signed by the president in January 2006, that required the attorney general and the FBI, in consultation with the retail community, to establish a task force to combat organized retail theft. The task force, initiated in 2006, is currently staffed by Department of Justice and FBI personnel and has worked closely with the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) to build the Law Enforcement Retail Partnership Network (LERPnet). This new database, launched April 9, 2007, is used by loss prevention industry experts and law enforcement to share information and help stop theft by criminal organizations, which costs the retail industry an estimated $30 billion each year.
“Retailers and manufacturers lose billions of dollars each year because of organized retail theft, and that loss is inevitably passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices,” said FBI Criminal Investigative Division assistant director Chip Burrus. “The Law Enforcement Retail Partnership Network database will allow retailers and law enforcement to work together to combat this problem.”
The database, housed and maintained by the private sector, allows retail participants to track and identify organized retail theft via a secure Web portal. To date, 32 retailers representing 46,000 stores have signed on, and 16,000 organized–retail theft incidents are already included in the system. Law enforcement will also be able to access LERPnet via the FBI’s Law Enforcement Online (LEO) system to search reported incidents and track retail theft throughout the country. This partnership between law enforcement and private industry provides for greater efficiency in fighting organized retail theft, enabling more arrests, prosecutions, and recoveries of stolen merchandise.
LEO provides a secure backbone network that members—including the law enforcement community, criminal justice officials, first responders, public safety officials, and members of the intelligence and counterintelligence communities—can use to store, process, and transmit sensitive but unclassified information.