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Multi-Agency Force Brings Down Dark Web Identity Theft from Douglas County

Recently in the city of Long Tree of Colorado, two arrests linked to identity theft have been made. These are among many other apprehensions that have been made by organized multi-agency services in Douglas County aimed at bringing retail identity theft to a halt.

Other such white-collar crimes include defalcation as reported from Highlands Ranch, a local case of identity theft of iPhone users, and cloning of credit cards. These crimes have led to Colorado being ranked as the second state most prone to identity theft, following Florida.

Stolen identity is marketed on darknet market sites where prices vary depending on the worth of the stolen identity. These sites are favorable to identity theft criminals as they are heavily encrypted and offer anonymity.

The proliferation of such crimes capitulated the establishment of a multi-agency strike force team about three months ago. The team, known as the Financial Investigative Regional Strike Team (FIRST), consists of law enforcement officers from five different agencies including the local police and the U.S. Secret Service.

The FIRST operation, launched in October, operates under the sheriffs’ headquarters of Douglas County in Castle Rock. It is aimed at tracking down organized fraudsters and retail theft formations locally and across states through collaboration and communication across administrative boundaries.

According to Kirk Wilson, Police Chief of Lone Tree, fraud and retail theft is the most crucial crime that the strike force deals with both in Lone Tree and Colorado. He adds that the crime is nothing new, but that it began quite a while ago and has continued to grow since, causing tension amongst the state residents.

The propagation of the crime is attributed to the use of the internet, especially dark websites that are complicated and hard to decrypt. These sites also trade in sensitive personal information that may be used to clone credit cards or for skimming operations.

Steve Johnson, Deputy Chief of the Office of the Sheriff in Douglas County, states the use of the internet is something they have to keep up with and that it makes solving the problem very complicated. However, the FIRST operation will come as a savior to many as store managers will be able to keep the millions of dollars they lose annually secondary to retail identity theft.

A security firm known as ASecureLife reported that in 2017, Colorado had identity theft victims totalling 385 and a loss of more than 1.7 million all over the state. The crime cost businesses an average of $500 million per year as reported by the Castle Rock Chief of Police, Jack Cauley.

Furthermore, a nation-wide survey carried out in November by the National Retail Federation revealed that 92% of the surveyed companies were victims of fraud and retail theft in the past year. This included return and gift card frauds, and selling both at pawn shops and online.

The federation also calculated that the businesses suffered losses amounting to greater than $777,000 for every $1 billion made during sales. As compared to last year, this is a 7% rise, which raises great concern.

Cauley added that apart from the system complexities of the sites used by fraudsters, lack of collaboration among community members was a great contribution to the crimes. He urged community members to work together among themselves across jurisdiction boundaries as this would strengthen the fight against illegal operations.

As stated by Matt Cybert, who is with the Secret Service Office at Denver, the task force members have all the expertise required for the operation and are therefore well suited for it. He added that FIRST is the only federal agency that deals with counterfeiting crimes.

Postal Inspection Service Inspector Eric Manuel would also be joining the team to aid in investigations relating to the dark web. Many cases have touched on the U.S. mail as it has been used for shipping stolen items.

The Secret Service, on the other hand, would provide connections that are vital in combating criminal operations on a countrywide basis. FIRST enables investigators working towards a common ground to be comprehensive in their work and to cover more ground than they would have if each organization had been working individually.

As Deputy Chief Johnson states, law enforcement agencies no longer work in ‘silos’ where they have a limited view of the picture. Placing team members at Castle Rock and having all of them looking at the same situation in real time will have a great impact on crime solving.

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