Innovative or Intrusive? Feds Follow Fraud Suspects on Facebook

A recent Florida case certainly wasn't the first time law enforcement agents have used social media to track criminal suspects. Over recent months, media stories have revealed that the tactic is growing common among both state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Some people leave their Facebook and other social media accounts open to the public. If not, agents sometimes pretend to be a "friend of a friend" on Facebook, for example, and send a friend request to a suspect. This allows them to track the suspect's every move, in real time, whenever suspect checks in at a business or is tagged in a photo.

So, while the use of social media as a law enforcement tool might not be new, a recent case involving an Orlando tourist may be the first time it has been used to investigate someone suspected of international credit card fraud.

Officers from a federal agency unnamed by the Orlando Sentinel apparently received a tip that a certain couple from Brazil might be traveling to Florida in order to deliver $20,000 obtained through credit card fraud to a courier. During their stay, agents suspected they might use stolen credit card data to continue their fraud scheme.

According to reporters, agents followed the couple on Facebook throughout September and part of October. As the 22-year-old man posted photos of himself in front of tourist attractions in Orlando and Tampa, agents were using that information to track his movements. Just before his flight home on Oct. 15, agents met him at Orlando National Airport and searched his belongings. As they were at an airport, no search warrant was required.

Through that search, and after agents plucked a package out of the U.S. mail, agents allegedly rounded up evidence including cash; blank credit cards; a laptop said to contain lists of credit cardholder's names, numbers and expiration dates; and a magnetic encoding machine used to imprint blank credit cards with the cardholders' information.

A federal grand jury indicted the man Nov. 13, but not for credit card fraud per se. He is charged with two counts of trafficking in a counterfeit device. The woman has not been charged, but the investigation is apparently ongoing.

Whatever you think of these allegations, this investigation highlights the substantial amount of surveillance currently being tolerated in the land of the free. Are you Facebook friends with Big Brother?

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Feds use Facebook to track credit-card fraud suspects vacationing in Orlando," Amy Pavuk, Nov. 15, 2013

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