There has been much discussion about the use of the Internet, social media and other technologies by criminals to organize multi-state or multi-national organized crime rings. However, forward-thinking security, loss prevention and law enforcement professionals are identifying ways to use the same technologies to cooperate across state lines and share critical information that will both solve and reduce crime.
For Harborstone Credit Union, a community-based cooperative with $750 million in assets and 52,000 members in Tacoma, Wash., what began as an investigation into a $5,000 fraudulent transaction quickly led to an investigative path across multiple states, using numerous traditional and innovative social technologies to identify a federal parolee running a sophisticated, million dollar, national identity theft ring — all of which could not have been accomplished just months prior.
It all started on Feb. 1 when a person with a non-Harborstone credit card came into a branch and requested a $5,000 advance. The teller called the number on the back of the card for authorization, checked the person’s identification and, believing that the transaction was legitimate, gave the $5,000 in cash to the walk-in customer. However, about a week later, Tom Southern, risk management officer for Harborstone, received a rejection notice from the credit card company and realized that Harborstone was the victim of a scam artist.
Just months earlier, Southern had led the implementation of 3VR video intelligence appliances, which allow him to search through hours of video in seconds. By the time the $5,000 crime was committed in February, Southern had the ability to remotely search video captured from cameras across 12 branch locations. As a result, Southern, who knew what time and location the fraud took place, was able to obtain video of the incident in less than an hour, something that could have taken days just a couple months prior.
Southern now had crisp, clear video of the crime as well as snapshots of the criminal’s face. However, he did not have a name or anything else to go on. Southern packaged all the video he had of the incident and posted an alert on Crime-Dex (www.crimedex.com), an online collaborative network of more than 3,000 fraud, loss prevention and law enforcement professionals focused on solving and preventing crime.
CrimeDex allows professionals to share, search, and leverage relevant information on criminals between businesses and law enforcement. With Crime- Dex 2.0’s secure Web 2.0 application, investigators can quickly solve and prevent crimes by searching and contributing to an extensive database of crimes and criminals (the national database currently includes more than 200,000 crimes and suspects nationwide with significant details on their activities and characteristics), uploading images from 3VR’s SmartRecorders, and sharing critical information via alerts and discussion boards. CrimeCatcher™ takes all suspect images and video entered in CrimeDex and automatically compares them to other suspects using 3VR’s facial surveillance. Customized notifications when data matches a wanted criminal help users monitor and search for known criminals.
Within 30 minutes, Southern received a call from a nearby bank loss prevention professional who recognized the suspect. The suspect had attempted a similar fraud at her branch and she recognized the modus operandi and determined it was the same person who defrauded Harborstone. Unfortunately, Southern still did not have a name but he knew the suspect was active.
Southern’s big tip would come just the next morning, from 800 miles away. Fremont, Calif. Detective Brian Ancona had noticed the CrimeDex alert. He quickly recognized the perpetrator and identified him as Shareef Hasan Hastings. Hastings, who was currently out on federal parole, had been previously arrested by Ancona for pilfering $1.2 million via an ID theft scam in Alameda County, Calif. In 2006, Hastings would take over accounts and impersonate bank customers to transfer funds from home equity lines of credit and then withdraw cash.
Now, Southern had a name and incriminating video to provide to the Tacoma Police Department. Today Hastings is headed to trial and faces significant time in federal prison.
“Our normal practice is to solicit feedback from local fraud groups,” Southern said. “I did that, but did not hear anything. Because CrimeDex’s coverage is more widespread and national in scope, we were able to quickly identify the suspect and provide critical evidence to federal authorities charged with stopping a major national identity theft ring that initially only looked like a single $5,000 fraud to us.”