The Document and Financial Crimes Unit is composed of ten sworn detectives, one civilian police investigator, and a sergeant. They are charged with the investigation of most of the crimes listed below. The following information is intended to better inform you of the types of financial crime, how to avoid becoming a victim, and how best to respond if any of these things should happen to you.
One used to have to engage the services of an accomplished engraver and a typesetter to produce anything that would closely approximate US Currency. Today, with the advent of the home computer, scanner, and high-resolution printers, virtually any criminal can print counterfeit bills. It is currently the policy of this Department to investigate all counterfeit currency cases that occur with in the City of Mesa. When In-Custody arrests are not made, the case is forwarded to the United States Secret Service for follow up.
In those cases where there is no information that would lead to the identity of the passer, the accepting merchant may call the Secret Service directly.
Prevention: Most counterfeit bills are a poor reflection on their maker. They are either too thin or too fat; too green or not green enough; the ink may be ill defined or run together. Look for irregularities in the bill and for well-defined micro printing. Hold new bills up to the light and look for the watermark image and security thread that states the bill's denomination.
When a thief steals your blank checks he often completes them himself, signs your name or one of the account holder's names listed on the check to the signature line, and then presents them for payment to every merchant or financial institution who will accept them. Just as often, the thief will trade your checks with another criminal or solicit a third party to cash the checks for him.
Prevention: Destroy all checks when you close an account, throw nothing away. Keep your checks in a secure location. Be mindful of the friend of a friend left unattended in your home and the family member struggling with addiction. Review your statement monthly to ensure you catch unauthorized checks in 60 days or less. Close any compromised account immediately and open a new pass-worded account.
Often times a criminal will steal only the account number listed at the bottom of your check. He will then make a computer generated check that bears his name, the identity of a third party whose name he has stolen, or a fictitious name for which he generates an ID. When this check is passed, someone else's face is presented but the funds are withdrawn from your account.
Prevention: There is little you can do to prevent the counterfeiting of your account. Drop outgoing mail in a U.S. Post Office mail drop, avoid using the cluster box drop, and never use the red flag on your mailbox unless you plan on watching over it until the carrier arrives. Close any compromised account immediately.
When a thief steals your mail, he often finds pre-completed outgoing checks. He may take these checks, dip them in a chemical solution, and then make them payable to the business of his choice. Use a gel pen when writing checks as this type of ink has been proven to resist chemical washing. Often the checks are used the same day they are stolen. Follow the same prevention tips found under counterfeit checks.
Insufficient Funds Checks
Checks that are written on a closed account, or have insufficient funds, and are less than $2000, are referred to the Maricopa County Check Enforcement Program to be handled civilly.
Credit Card Fraud
Lost or stolen credit cards are used until the credit card issuer suspends the card for unusual activity or until the account holder discovers they are missing and cancels them. Losses can be dramatic to the issuer, but are generally limited to $0 - $50 for the account holder who responsibly advises the credit card company of theft or loss immediately. Information on protecting your credit cards can be found at www.ftc.gov.
Credit card applications and checks are often mailed to the account holder without their knowledge. If these checks or applications are intercepted in the mail or not forwarded from a previous address, substantial financial loss can be incurred.
Credit card fraud is particularly insidious when only the account number is stolen. This can potentially occur anytime that you use the card. An unscrupulous clerk, waitress, waiter, phone solicitor, agent or "friend" can quickly jot the number down, skim the information, or imprint a second receipt and then save or sell the number for later use. These numbers are then used over the phone, the Internet, or with well-meaning, but unthinking, merchant employees.
When your card is used without your permission, the card issuer is generally out the money. The merchant or Internet site that accepts a number, without presentation of the card, suffers the loss.
Prevention: Guard your credit cards. Be particular where you use them and don't let them out of your sight when making a purchase. Monitor your account at least monthly. Cancel lost or mislaid cards immediately. Do not give them to a third party for use on your behalf. This could be construed as an extension of credit on your part and any charges over the agreed upon use could become civil and your responsibility.
Identity theft occurs "..if the person knowingly takes or uses any personal identifying information of another person, without the consent of that other person, with the intent to obtain or use the other person's identity for any unlawful purpose or to cause loss to a person." ARS 13-2008.A (class 4 felony). For information on how to protect yourself against identity theft, check out our Crime Prevention Literature page, which has several brochures on Identity Theft and many other topics.
Occurs when a subject, most often known to the victim, uses the victim's personal information to avoid arrest, or as his own information when an arrest occurs. This often results in an arrest record or a warrant in the victim's name. This situation is usually cleared up during an identity hearing, requested by the victim, in the court where the charge was heard or the warrant issued.
Occurs when a subject uses the victim's information by phone or in person to obtain credit with merchants, most often for consumer goods, Internet porn sites or gambling. In some cases car loans, computers, mortgages and even bankruptcies are done using the victim's information.
Occurs when a subject uses the victim's information to obtain medical services, usually for in-patient procedures. The victim's social security number is most often compromised in this situation. Given the intimate knowledge a hospital gains from most procedures, this individual is usually caught. However the victim generally does not learn about the crime until a credit report is done or until they apply for services with the same care providers themselves.
This most often occurs when a subject uses the victim's Social Security Number over the phone to activate cellular service on a mobile phone. The phone generally is active for 30 to 45 days until the bill goes unpaid or the victim receives it. The service provider generally absorbs the loss.
Prevention: Do not share your information with anyone over the phone when you don't know who he or she is and you did not personally initiate the call. Don't give out your Social Security Number to anyone but those who have a direct need for it (i.e. your employer, accountant, tax preparer, etc.). Your local merchant or libraries do not need your Social Security Number, even though it is a convenient way for them to track your information. Have your Social Security Number removed from your driver's license, health insurance cards and any other cards you may carry.
Check your credit history at least annually. Check all statements monthly. Be cautious with outgoing and incoming mail delivery. File change of address notices promptly with the merchants you do business with and with your local post office.
A great deal of business is conducted over the Internet. Thieves have learned to use the Internet to their advantage as well. Common practices include the use of your credit card number to order merchandise and services. Using your card to pay for Internet Provider services, access to porn sites and online gambling seem to be favorites. Other illegal activities include offering items for auction or for sale, accepting payment, and then failing to provide the promised merchandise, often over long distances.
In cases where the U.S. Mail is used to forward payment and receive products, the U.S. Postal Inspectors may be contacted to report a loss resulting from criminal activity. www.usps.com
In cases where the loss is incurred over the Internet, but where mail is not employed, an electronic complaint can be filed with the FBI at www.ic3.gov.
The Mesa Police Department does not presently investigate these crimes locally.
Phoenix and vicinity has been identified by the U.S. Post Office as being a hot spot in the nation for mail theft. Thieves look for mailboxes in residential areas that conveniently announce that they contain outgoing mail with a bright red flag. Cluster boxes are a favorite for both incoming and outgoing mail. This mail generally contains outgoing bills, tax returns, credit applications, etc.
Mail theft and lost or stolen wallets and purses are increasingly the primary sources of stolen financial and identifying information used to attack and access your credit and accounts.