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Back to Archives | Back to May 2009 Contents 


Scrap Material Theft Alert

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) has introduced the newest tool in the recycling industry’s effort to fight material theft. is a new Internet-based theft alert system that will allow law enforcement agencies to alert recyclers of reported stolen material and allow recyclers to alert area agencies when they have received materials they believe might have been stolen. represents another significant improvement in the theft reporting procedures that have been available through the ISRI for more than two decades. The original system, known as FaxNet, allowed the ISRI to notify recyclers in the immediate area of a theft via fax. The ISRI’s Theft Alert system, developed in 2006, moved the service from fax to e-mail and sent alerts to a far broader audience that included all recyclers on the ISRI’s contact list in the state where the theft occurred and in all surrounding states. is fast and easy. Once a potential user completes registration for the system, law enforcement agencies (and certain corporate security personnel) will be able to post alerts immediately. The system even accepts up to four photographs (limited to two megabytes in size) of the stolen material. The system sends reports to all contacts located within approximately 250 miles of the theft location.

The ISRI’s database of e-mail subscribers currently tops 4,500 scrap recycling and law enforcement professionals in the United States and Canada. Whereas preapproved law enforcement personnel can submit alerts without intervention by ISRI staff, alerts submitted by other individuals for potential broadcast must be reviewed by ISRI staff. is available free of charge to law enforcement agencies and to recyclers. Any recyclers wishing to receive theft alerts in their areas can simply register on the site with their name, address, and e-mail information. Many law enforcement agencies are now contacting non-ISRI recyclers in their areas to encourage them to register so that they can receive the reports.

For more information on the system, readers can visit or contact Gary Bush, Director of Metal Theft Prevention, at 352-433-2477 or via e-mail at

New Sexual Assault Investigative Tools Available Free from the IACP

To help strengthen sexual assault investigations and set national uniform standards for sexual assault case coding, the IACP’s Police Response to Violence Against Women Project has released Sexual Assault Guidelines: Supplemental Report Form and Investigative Strategies. This educational tool consists of a supplemental report form, guidelines for case documentation, and a pocket “tip” card for officers.

The guidelines highlight practical case documentation and investigative strategies recognizing the impact of trauma on a victim’s behavior and the influence it may have on reporting. Best practices also focus on thoroughly investigating and documenting a suspect’s conduct, which can uncover grooming and preassault stalking behavior that indicates premeditation and may reveal previously unreported offenses in the suspect’s social circles.

The Sexual Assault Incident Reports pocket tip card serves as a convenient reference for officers responding to reports of sexual assault crimes. It concisely outlines important elements of writing reports, interviewing victims and suspects, and investigating incidents.

Procedures to promote supervisory review of cases have been emphasized throughout the documents to enhance officer accountability. Once fully employed, these tools will result in stronger sexual assault cases and facilitate successful prosecutions across the United States. Produced with funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Violence Against Women, these tools are available free of charge and in bulk. An order form can be found at the IACP Web site at or can be obtained by contacting Deborah Chandler at 1-800-THE-IACP, extension 825.

Criminal Investigative Failures

During the 115th Annual IACP Conference last year in San Diego, the IACP membership adopted a resolution submitted by the Police Investigative Operations Committee, the Police Image and Ethics Committee, and the Forensics Committee in support of research of wrongful convictions. The subject of investigative failures is a current topic of discussion among the IACP’s committees.

Dr. D. Kim Rossmo of the Department of Criminal Justice, Texas State University, a member of the Police Investigative Operations Committee, has recently published a book on the subject, titled Criminal Investigative Failures (Boca Raton, Florida: Taylor & Francis, CRC Press, 2009). Dr. Rossmo also presented a workshop at the 113th Annual IACP Conference in 2006 on why investigations fail.

In the presentation and the book, Dr. Rossmo noted that police detectives are common characters in novels, film, and television. They crack complex cases through deductive skills, high-tech forensics, specialized computer programs, and dedication. But in the real world, justice does not always triumph. The majority of crimes go unsolved, and many criminals avoid apprehension. Sometimes innocent people are arrested. Every day, 16 murders occur in the United States that go unsolved. Furthermore, it has been estimated that 0.5 percent of all felony cases are wrongful convictions—travesties of justice that give proverbial “get out of jail free” cards to the real offenders.

Most police investigators are dedicated professionals who want to solve their cases and arrest the right people. So what causes a major criminal investigation to fail or a prosecution to focus on an innocent person? The key factors can be grouped into three areas: (1) tunnel vision and similar cognitive biases that produce mistakes in reasoning; (2) groupthink and other organizational traps into which investigators fall; and (3) probability errors in the fields of forensic science and criminal profiling, such as the prosecutor’s fallacy. By outlining some of these “subtle hazards,” Rossmo seeks to improve the police investigative process and help prevent future failures of justice. Contributions by scholars, police detectives, and journalists elaborate the core points and discuss relevant case studies from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

As the issue of investigative failures continues to be a topic among the IACP committees, a workshop is in preparation for the 116th Annual IACP Conference in Denver, Colorado, this fall.

Internet Crime

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), a partnership between the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center, has released its 2008 annual report on the number of Internet crime complaints received.

Source: Internet Crime Complaint Center
A total of 275,284 complaints were received in 2008, 33.1 percent more than the 2007 report total of 206,884. The total dollar loss reported in 2008 was $265 million, up from $239 million in 2007. The average individual loss was $931. The accompanying table shows the number of complaints received and dollar loss totals for the past five years.

The 2008 report details information related to the volume and scope of complaints, complainant and perpetrator characteristics, geographical data, most frequent reported scams, and the results of IC3 referrals.

During the 2008 reporting period, Internet auction fraud was the second most reported offense, comprising 25.5 percent of referred crime complaints. However, this represents a 20.5 percent decrease from last year’s levels of auction fraud reported to IC3. In addition, nondelivery of merchandise and/or payment represented 32.9 percent of complaints (up 31.1 percent from the previous year). Confidence fraud made up an additional 7.9 percent of complaints. Credit and debit card fraud, check fraud, and computer fraud complaints represented 20.6 percent of all referred complaints. Other complaint categories such as identity theft, financial institutions fraud, threats, and Nigerian letter fraud complaints together represented 9.4 percent of all complaints.

Computer fraud schemes continue to flourish as financial data migrate to the Internet. Schemes are also becoming more sophisticated. The 2008 report is posted at the IC3 Web site at

Stimulus Scams

Several scams related to the federal stimulus package are afoot in communities across the United States, and police chiefs should be ready to respond to citizens’ questions about them. Any time a large amount of money is involved, scams and frauds are to be expected; however, with the unprecedented involvement of the Internet in securing Recovery Act funds, high-tech frauds are now spreading. Current con games are targeting small businesses, consumers facing foreclosures or those hoping to gain from foreclosures on housing, and senior citizens.

Small-Business Scams: One technique is sending an official-looking letter from an government agency, often the Small Business Administration, reporting that the business is eligible for a tax rebate under the stimulus plan. To receive the rebate, a business must complete an authorization form, including the business’s bank and account number, for processing the rebate. Of course, once the form is returned to the fake address with the banking information, the scammer starts cleaning out the small business’s bank account.

Foreclosure Scams: Foreclosure scams are currently popular. In one scheme, consumers receive what appears to be a stimulus check with instructions to call a toll-free number. When consumers call the number, they are told to deposit the check and wire back a certain amount to another account either to register for a foreclosure rescue program or to obtain information on how to use stimulus funds to purchase foreclosed properties in their areas. Of course, the deposit check is not honored by the bank, and consumers who fall prey to the scam lose the amount wired to the scam artist.

The Elderly: The Recovery Act provides for a one-time payment of $250 to citizens who receive certain types of federal benefits such as Social Security. Taking advantage of this benefit, scam artists call or e-mail senior citizens and falsely claim to represent the U.S. Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration. Scammers tell seniors that to receive the stimulus benefit, they need to be able to deposit the payment in their bank accounts. Scammers then ask for personal information such as recipients' social security numbers, bank account numbers, or credit card numbers. Once this information is provided, the scammers proceed to clean out their victims' bank accounts or run up credit card charges.

In reality, eligible recipients of the social security stimulus benefit need not do anything—the payment is sent just as their regular social security benefits are received, either by direct deposit to their bank or as a paper check in the mail.

Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board: Chairman Earl Devaney of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department, and former chair of the IACP Environmental Crimes Committee, has designated detection and public dissemination of Recovery Act–related scams as a specific function of the board.

Police chiefs should inform their communities that whenever stimulus scam artists contact them, certain telltale signs will be present:

  • Asking recipients to send a small processing fee, supposedly to get a much larger check in return

  • Requesting bank account numbers to deposit checks; scammers use the information to clean out existing accounts or to open new accounts that they abuse

  • Encouraging recipients to click on links, open attached forms, or call phony toll-free numbers—even just clicking on a link or opening a document can install harmful software on recipients' computers, providing an identity thief access to personal information

Responding to Scams: Besides local agencies’ actions on reported scams, complaints about suspected Recovery Act scams should be filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The IC3, established in 2000, is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Working with local, state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies, IC3 analysts receive, develop, and subsequently refer information for investigative and prosecutorial attention.

Agencies with criminal investigative authority may search all complaints received at the IC3, create cases, and collaborate with other agencies across the United States through the Internet Complaint Search and Investigation System (ICSIS). To access ICSIS, a police department must be a member of NW3C. Membership is free and open to federal, state, local, and international law enforcement agencies; regulatory and prosecution agencies; and duly constituted permanent task forces. IC3 also provides support services to local police departments, including case funding, investigative support and research, and training. For more information, readers should visit ■



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVI, no. 5, May 2009. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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