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Criminal Investigations

The United States Secret Service is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the nation's financial infrastructure and payment systems. As a part of this mission, the Secret Service constantly implements and evaluates prevention and response measures to guard against electronic crimes as well as other computer related fraud. The Secret Service derives its authority to investigate specified criminal violations from Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 3056.

Criminal investigations can be international in scope. These investigations include: counterfeiting of U.S. currency (to include coins); counterfeiting of foreign currency (occurring domestically); identity crimes such as access device fraud, identity theft, false identification fraud, bank fraud and check fraud; telemarketing fraud; telecommunications fraud (cellular and hard wire); computer fraud; fraud targeting automated payment systems and teller machines; direct deposit fraud; investigations of forgery, uttering, alterations, false impersonations or false claims involving U.S. Treasury Checks, U.S. Saving Bonds, U.S. Treasury Notes, Bonds and Bills; electronic funds transfer (EFT) including Treasury disbursements and fraud within the Treasury payment systems; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation investigations; Farm Credit Administration violations; and fictitious or fraudulent commercial instruments and foreign securities.

Counterfeit Currency

The Secret Service has jurisdiction over violations involving the counterfeiting of United States obligations and securities. Some of the counterfeited United States obligations and securities commonly investigated by the Secret Service include U.S. currency (to include coins), U.S. Treasury checks, Department of Agriculture food coupons and U.S. postage stamps.

The Secret Service remains committed to the mission of combating counterfeiting by working closely with state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as foreign law enforcement counterparts, to aggressively pursue counterfeiters. The Secret Service maintains a working relationship with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Federal Reserve System to ensure the integrity of the nation's currency. For more information, visit the Know Your Money page on this website.

History of Counterfeiting
  • The counterfeiting of money is one of the oldest crimes in history. At some periods in early history, it was considered treasonous and was punishable by death.

  • During the American Revolution, the British counterfeited U.S. currency in such large amounts that the Continental currency soon became worthless. "Not worth a Continental" became a popular expression of the era.

  • During the Civil War, one-third to one-half of the currency in circulation was counterfeit. At that time, approximately 1,600 state banks designed and printed their own bills. Each bill carried a different design, making it difficult to detect counterfeit bills from the 7,000 varieties of real bills.

  • While a national currency was adopted in 1862 to resolve the counterfeiting problem, it was soon counterfeited and circulated so extensively that it became necessary to take enforcement measures. As a result, on July 5, 1865, the United States Secret Service was established to suppress the widespread counterfeiting of the nation's currency.

  • Although the counterfeiting of money was suppressed substantially after the establishment of the Secret Service, this crime still represents a potential danger to the nation's economy.

  • Today, new forms of counterfeiting are on the rise. One reason for this is the ease and speed with which large quantities of counterfeit currency can be produced using modern photographic, printing and computer equipment.

  • You can help guard against this threat by being more familiar with your currency. Only with the public's cooperation and the aid of local law enforcement agencies can the Secret Service reduce and control this crime. Visit the How to Detect Counterfeit Money section of Know Your Money to find out more on how to guard against forgery losses.


Financial Crimes

The Secret Service exercises broad investigative jurisdiction over a variety of financial crimes. As the original guardian of the nation's financial payment systems, the Secret Service has a long history of protecting American consumers and industries from financial fraud. In addition to its original mandate of combating the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, the passage of federal laws in 1982 and 1984 gave the Secret Service primary authority for the investigation of access device fraud, including credit and debit card fraud, and parallel authority with other federal law enforcement agencies in identity crime cases. The Secret Service also was given primary authority for the investigation of fraud as it relates to computers.

In the early 1990s, the Secret Service's investigative mission expanded to include concurrent jurisdiction with the United States Department of Justice regarding Financial Institution Fraud. Also during this time, the Internet and use of personal computers became commonplace and expanded worldwide. The combination of the information revolution and the effects of globalization caused the investigative mission of the Secret Service to expand dramatically. As a result, the Secret Service has evolved into an agency that is recognized worldwide for its investigative expertise and for its aggressive and innovative approach to the detection, investigation and prevention of financial crimes.

On October 26, 2001, President Bush signed into law H.R. 3162, the USA PATRIOT Act. The U.S. Secret Service was mandated by this legislation to establish a nationwide network of Electronic Crimes Task Forces (ECTFs). The concept of the ECTF network is to bring together not only federal, state and local law enforcement, but also prosecutors, private industry and academia. The common purpose is the prevention, detection, mitigation and aggressive investigation of attacks on the nation's financial and critical infrastructures.

The following are primary offenses investigated by the Secret Service:

Identity Crimes - Identity crimes are defined as the misuse of personal or financial identifiers in order to gain something of value and/or facilitate other criminal activity. The Secret Service is the primary federal agency tasked with investigating identity theft/fraud and its related activities under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028. Identity crimes are some of the fastest growing and most serious economic crimes in the United States for both financial institutions and persons whose identifying information has been illegally used. The Secret Service records criminal complaints, assists victims in contacting other relevant investigative and consumer protection agencies and works with other federal, state and local law enforcement and reporting agencies to identify perpetrators.

Identity crimes investigated by the Secret Service include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Credit Card/Access Device Fraud (Skimming)
  • Check Fraud
  • Bank Fraud
  • False Identification Fraud
  • Passport/Visa Fraud
  • Identity Theft
Counterfeit and Fraudulent Identification - The Secret Service enforces laws involving counterfeit and fraudulent identification which means, where someone knowingly and without lawful authority produces, transfers or possesses a false identification document to defraud the U.S. Government. The use of desktop publishing software/hardware to counterfeit and produce different forms of identification used to obtain funds illegally remains one of the Secret Service's core violations.

Access Device Fraud - Financial industry sources estimate annual losses associated with credit card fraud to be in the billions of dollars. The Secret Service is the primary federal agency tasked with investigating access device fraud and its related activities under Title 18, United States Code, Section 1029. Although it is commonly called the credit card statute, this law also applies to other crimes involving access devices including debit cards, automated teller machine (ATM) cards, computer passwords, personal identification numbers, credit card or debit card account numbers, long-distance access codes, and the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) contained within cellular telephones that assign billing.

Computer Fraud - Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1030, authorizes the Secret Service to investigate computer crimes. Violations enforced under this statute include unauthorized access to protected computers, theft of data such as personal identification used to commit identity theft, denial of service attacks used for extortion or disruption of e-commerce and malware (malicious software) distribution to include viruses intended for financial gain.

The proliferation of the Internet has allowed the transition of traditional street crimes to flourish in the anonymity of cyberspace. The borders of a state or a country are no longer boundaries for cyber criminals to reach their victims. As a result of advancements in technology, the Secret Service established the Electronic Crimes Special Agent Program (ECSAP) and a network of Electronic Crimes Task Forces throughout the United States.

Agents assigned to ECSAP are computer investigative specialists, qualified to conduct examinations on many types of electronic evidence, including computers, personal data assistants, telecommunications devices, electronic organizers and other electronic media. ECSAP is the only program of its kind in the country with the level of expertise and culture of partnership-building with stakeholders across the spectrum of critical infrastructure.

The Secret Service's Electronic Crimes Task Force and Electronic Crimes Working Group Initiatives seek to prioritize investigative cases that involve some form of electronic crime. These initiatives provide needed support and resources with field investigations that have any one of the following criteria:

  • Significant economic or community impact
  • Participation of organized criminal groups involving multiple districts or transnational organizations
  • Use of schemes involving new technology
The task force/working group model brings together state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, private sector interests and academia in an effort to prevent cyber-crime and identity theft.

Forgery - Hundreds of millions of government checks and bonds are issued by the United States each year. This large number attracts criminals who specialize in stealing and forging checks or bonds from mail boxes in apartment complexes and private homes. During a fraudulent transaction, a check or bond thief usually forges the payee's signature and presents false identification.

Money Laundering - The Money Laundering Control Act makes it a crime to launder proceeds of certain criminal offenses, called "specified unlawful activities," which are defined in Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1956 & 1957; as well as Title 18, United States Code, Section 1961 (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). The Secret Service monitors money laundering activities through other financial crimes such as financial institution fraud, access device fraud, food stamp fraud and counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

Electronic Benefits Transfer Fraud - Congress enacted the Food Stamp Act of 1977 to provide nutritional food to low-income families. It further directed the Secret Service to aggressively pursue fraud in the food stamp program. The possession or use of food stamp coupons, "Authorization to Participate" cards or Electronic Benefit Transfer cards by unauthorized persons compromises the integrity of the Food Stamp Program and is a criminal violation of the Food Stamp Act. Please visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp for further information regarding the Food Stamp Program and the Electronic Benefits Transfer cards.

Asset Forfeiture - The seizing and forfeiture of assets is a byproduct of the Secret Service's criminal investigations. As a result, the Secret Service, through its asset forfeiture program, provides assistance to investigative offices by supplying direction, expertise and temporary support personnel, as needed, in criminal investigations seizure and during the seizure and the forfeiture of assets.

Advance Fee Fraud- The perpetrators of advance fee fraud, known internationally as "4-1-9 fraud" (after the section of the Nigerian penal code which addresses these schemes), are often very creative and innovative. A large number of victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out from the masses to share in multi-million dollar windfall profits for no apparent reason.

If you have received an e-mail or fax from someone you do not know requesting your assistance in a financial transaction, such as the transfer of a large sum of money into an account, or claiming you are the next of kin to an wealthy person who has died, or the winner of some obscure lottery, DO NOT respond. These requests are typically sent through public servers via a generic "spammed" e-mail message. Usually, the sender does not yet know your personal e-mail address and is depending on you to respond. Once you reply, whether you intend to string them along or tell them you are not interested, they will often continue to e-mail you in an attempt to harass or intimidate you. If you receive an unsolicited e-mail of this nature, the best course is to simply delete the message.

Due to a number of aggravating circumstances -- the use of false names, addresses, stolen/cloned/prepaid cell phones and remote e-mail addresses -- verifying the location of and subsequent prosecution of these persons or groups is difficult. The act of sending an e-mail soliciting your assistance in a financial transaction is not a crime in itself. The installation of a credible spam filter and contacting your Internet Service Provider may help deter these unsolicited e-mails. However, there is currently no available program to completely block these types of messages.

If you have suffered a significant financial loss related to advance fee fraud, please contact your local Secret Service field office. Telephone numbers are available in the Field Office Directory on this website or may also be found on the inside cover of your local telephone directory. Any investigation regarding this type of fraud will be conducted on a case by case basis at the discretion of the local Secret Service office and U.S. Attorney's Office.

What to do if you have been the victim of credit card fraud or identity theft:

  1. If your complaint is essentially a non-criminal dispute with a retailer or other business, you must immediately dispute the charge(s) in writing with the customer relations office of your credit card company.

  2. If you have been the victim of credit card fraud or identity theft, the following tips will assist you:

    • Report the crime to the police immediately. Get a copy of your police report or case number to provide to your credit card company, bank or insurance company.

    • Immediately contact your credit card issuer(s). Get replacement cards with new account numbers and ask that the old account be processed as "account closed at consumer's request" for credit record purposes. You should also follow up this telephone conversation with a letter to the credit card company that summarizes your request.

    • Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting bureaus. Report the theft of your credit cards and/or numbers. Ask that your accounts be flagged. Also, add a victim's statement to your report that requests that they contact you to verify future credit applications. The following is a list of addresses and numbers to the three credit bureaus:

      Equifax Credit Information Services - Consumer Fraud Div.
      P.O. Box 105496
      Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496
      Tel: (800) 997-2493
      www.equifax.com

      Experian
      P.O. Box 2104
      Allen, Texas 75013-2104
      Tel: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
      www.experian.com

      Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.
      P.O. Box 390
      Springfield, PA 19064-0390
      Tel: (800) 680-7289
      www.transunion.com

    • Keep a log of all conversations with authorities and financial entities.

    • As with any personal information, only provide your credit card number to merchants you know. Also, remember to protect your Social Security number. You have to provide your Social Security number for employment and tax purposes, but it is not necessary for many businesses. Notify the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General if you suspect your Social Security number has been used fraudulently.

    • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the Commission assists victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help them resolve the financial problems and other repercussions that can result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the FTC's Consumer Response Center:


      By Phone:       Toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338)
                             TDD 202-326-2502
      By Mail:           Consumer Response Center
                             Federal Trade Commission
                             600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
                             Washington, DC 20580
      On the Web:   www.consumer.gov/idtheft
      For Consumer Information: www.ftc.gov/ftc/consumer.htm
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