Attorney General's Credit-Card Theft Highlights Prosecution Problems
Police departments frequently struggle with whether, how, and where to prosecute credit-card and ID theft when a victim reports such a crime.
A recent attempted theft using the Massachusetts attorney general's credit card -- and her comments about it -- have renewed focus on jurisdictional problems authorities face when prosecuting credit-card and identity-theft cases.
The state's top prosecutor, Martha Coakley, told the Boston Herald that it was unlikely the case would be prosecuted.
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Coakley received a call from Dell to confirm that she had purchased a $1,250 computer and wanted it shipped to a Texas address. Coakley told the company she hadn't ordered the computer and called to have the card canceled. Her comments after the incident have drawn attention to an issue police departments struggle with -- whether, how, and where to prosecute credit-card theft when a victim reports such a crime.
Paul Stephens, policy analyst for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, says that, for many local police departments, credit-card theft appears to be a low priority.
"In some jurisdictions, there's a reluctance to investigate," he says. "Some local police departments won't even take a report."
It also appears to be a low priority for credit-card issuers. "The financial institutions that issue the credit cards really haven't put pressure on legislatures to take action," Stephens says. "They sort of seem to fold it into the cost of doing business. Consumers aren't going to be held liable. In a typical situation, it's the bank that's been hit with the loss."
Ultimately, however, it's the consumer who covers the cost, through higher fees and interest rates, Stephens adds.
Federal lawmakers are considering rules requiring companies to notify customers of data breaches, and the Federal Trade Commission is working to smooth over jurisdictional issues resulting from overseas theft of credit-card information. The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Governors Association have begun to address inconsistencies among local and state investigators.