Today I had a pretty typical law enforcement interaction.
Before I get into that, I want to say that I have great admiration and respect for many of the law enforcement folks I meet every day. The down side of this interaction is not a reflection on any individual in law enforcement, but rather of the troubles at the next level - the US Attorney's Office, where they decide whether a federal case will be worked or not.
In this circumstance, a family member had advertised some services on the Internet. Predictably, a number of non-English speaking persons jumped on the service and wanted to buy it. The first wants to know if he can send a Cashier's Check for $4,000 rather than the actual price of $2,100, and would she be willing to deposit it in her account and wire the additional funds to his Travel Agent. The second actually sent a check for $3600 (I have the check), and then Tragedy Struck, and the poor gentleman is hospitalized in Canada and his only hope is if my family member could send $500 of that $3600 to a Canadian address TODAY!
(The other guy wanted the money sent to a Travel Agency in London, who was paying for his son's trip to the United States).
So, we have a counterfeit check. The check itself is printed on check stock you can buy in an office supply store, and drawn from an American based Credit Union. Only they've mis-spelled common English words, even on the face of the check, and have given an invalid toll free number for the credit union.
I contact the credit union's "risk management" office, describe my scenario, and ask if its common. She says she gets "two or three calls a day" very similar to mine, each ending with a counterfeit check drawn from their credit union. Sometimes they have deposited the check and sent money to the con man. Sometimes they haven't.
I ask her who her chosen law enforcement partner in this situation is. She says that she has called the Secret Service, who seemed interested at first, but lost interest when they realized the checks were being mailed from Canada. I call her local FBI CyberCrime Supervisor and describe the scenario to him. He says that unfortunately "bank fraud is not the priority that it once was" in the Bureau. He'd love to work the case, but "if there is not at least $500,000 in loss, the local Assistant US Attorney won't prosecute."
So, what should you do if you or a family member or friend receives a counterfeit check?
The best plan, according to all parties, is to fill out the report that you can find at the Internet Crime and Complaint Center website -- http://www.ic3.gov/ -- By entering as much data as possible into that database, your case can be combined with other cases to try to generate those minimums that will make a US Attorney want to prosecute. Note: The $500,000 is a higher threshold than I have heard in most jurisdictions. Some have stated they will take action for as little as $75,000 in proven losses.
I believe this will get better, but part of what will make it better is people like you and me making sure that we gather as much evidence as we can, and put it in front of the people who have to make these decisions. Maybe we waste our time today, but its the necessary leg work to getting this situation turned around.