FBI Working with Business to Fight Fraud
Michael LeMieux served in the FBI as a Supervisory Special Agent at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. He managed there investigations involving theft of trade secrets, counterfeit goods that pose a threat to health/safety and copyright and trademark infringement cases. Since retiring from the FBI, LeMieux has served as a Certified Fraud Examiner and operates Whiteriver LLC, a consulting and risk management firm. He also serves as a Law Enforcement Fellow with Michigan State University’s Center for Anti-Counterfeiting and Product Protection (A-CAPP). In a recent interview with about-fraud.com, LeMieux explained U.S. law enforcement’s approach to working with businesses to fight fraud online.
RS: What is your professional background in dealing with fraud prevention?
ML: Like many law enforcement professionals, I’ve investigated many crimes over the past few decades that represent fraud offenses. I started my law enforcement career in uniformed policing. I recall from that period dealing with check fraud and identity theft, all very simple cases but very important to each victim.
My career as a special agent in the FBI included specialization in financial crimes, corruption, intellectual property rights and counter-terrorism. Each of those areas often included fraud-related crimes. I encountered crimes such as bank fraud and insurance fraud while working on counter-terrorism. I dealt with financial institution fraud and money laundering while fighting public corruption. Lastly, I dealt with fraud online while addressing intellectual property crime in an e-commerce environment. Each instance I’ve described offered up opportunities to address fraud prevention.
Law enforcement basics
RS: What sort of bodies exist in the U.S. for coordinating joint public-private sector activity in fighting fraud online?
ML: There are three bodies that immediately come to mind when talking about fighting fraud online. Perhaps the most well-known is the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or “IC3”, which is a reporting mechanism to submit information to the FBI concerning suspected Internet-facilitated criminal activity. It is used to develop effective alliances between law enforcement and industry partners. The National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA), established in 2002 as a non-profit corporation, is focused on identifying, mitigating, and neutralizing cybercrime threats through strategic alliances and partnerships. The third entity worth noting is the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, which is focused on combating the theft of intellectual property rights. While this center is not jointly staffed by industry, the joint public-private partnerships forged by this effort are critical.
RS: What do you think is the biggest misconception businesspeople have about working with government authorities on fraud prevention issues?
ML: It’s a belief that the only time that businesses should engage law enforcement is when they have an identifiable crime. As the crime problem becomes more complex, such as in the e-commerce environment, it becomes more critical that law enforcement work together with their private partners on an ongoing basis. It is less the “complainant and investigator” roles that one might typically find in front-line policing, where one role sort of ends and another role begins. Instead, the partners ideally engage each other to find what works best to address the crime problem. Those discussions can and should occur well before we have a crime to report.
RS: When and why should companies seek help with dealing with fraud issues? When should they not be contacting law enforcement?
ML: The most significant change over my career in the FBI and U.S. law enforcement was the adoption of a customer service mentality, especially among federal law enforcement. It is more cooperative today than it has ever been, and that partnership seems to extend to virtually every crime problem category, whether that be cybercrime and intellectual property rights, to infrastructure protection, counter-terrorism preparedness and financial crime. Given the increasingly interconnected nature of individuals and their institutions, the trend is very likely to continue. The changes to finance and commerce alone begs for coordinated efforts between government and industry wherever possible as we are faced with complex and quickly evolving crime problems.
This customer service mentality is important because it means that the door is more open today than it ever was. Law enforcement is fighting many of the same issues that you, as a business, are fighting. They may have seen some things that could be helpful to you. They may not be able to share details but can very often speak about trends and successes fighting against criminals. This is certainly embodied in the current approach to anti-money laundering (AML). One only need to look at the topics of a significant AML conference to see how far we’ve come with industry/government partnerships.
As far as when businesses should not contact law enforcement, one needs to be mindful that law enforcement resources are stretched extremely thin. Issues that are not directly related to crime-fighting efforts are not the best use of their time.
Cooperation dos and don’ts
RS: What information do law enforcement personnel need or are looking for when working a fraud case presented to them by a company?
ML: There are some great tips out there, including some checklists, on what law enforcement is looking for when examining a case for potential investigation and/or prosecution. This certainly varies some by the crime and jurisdiction.
Typically, law enforcement wants an identifiable victim, any and all details regarding suspects if available, all facts relating to the event, identities of victims and witnesses, details of any investigation completed and copies of relevant documents. For issues relating to financial crimes, you may also be facing a challenge where certain loss thresholds must be met for case prosecution. Additionally, be aware of any other aggravating factors that might exist, such as sophistication of the crime or involvement of criminal enterprises. Those factors can make your case more attractive to investigators and prosecutors. These discussions, about what a particular jurisdiction may be looking for in a criminal case referral, are exactly the kinds of discussions any entity would want to have with criminal justice agencies well before they are victims of fraud and have a case.
RS: What are some good ways for companies to lower the resource cost in terms of time, effort and money when working with law enforcement?
ML: Have a plan and know what law enforcement will need from you ahead of time. It is common for there to be some frustration when law enforcement effectively re-investigates allegations when the company has already done much of the required due diligence. This repetition is often based on evidentiary needs (both witnesses and physical evidence). Don’t take offense that your interviews were redone by the investigators. However, there are times where industry may undertake investigative efforts that don’t need to be completed if the case is adopted for investigation and prosecution. There are too many circumstances to list here but suffice to say it’s another reason why you’d like to have a better sense of those issues long before you need to refer a crime. You are missing opportunities to share expertise and streamline your own processes during a criminal referral if you don’t do it ahead of time.
Reaching out to the FBI
RS: Can you give any concrete examples from your time in law enforcement when companies materially benefited their brand or bottom-line by cooperating with the government on cases involving fraud?
ML: Frankly, we only need to look to the success stories that are related to the brand protection efforts between industry and the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. There are plenty of examples of benefits to industry when working with government entities on cases involving intellectual property rights and often-associated forms of fraud. In the end, the protection of a brand, whether it be through intellectual property enforcement or protecting the financial integrity of the company, all comes down to protecting the reputation of the business.
RS: Do law enforcement personnel regularly attend industry conferences? Is there a good way to get law enforcement to take proactive steps in explaining their value and providing it to the private sector?
ML: Law enforcement regularly attend industry conferences, especially when invited, and one great way to get them to explain what they do and how they do it is to invite them to speak to your group. You have probably noticed that more and more law enforcement professionals also belong to many of the same associations you belong to, whether they be fraud examiners, anti-money laundering professionals or financial crimes investigators. Reach out and ask them to provide your group with a presentation on their mission and capabilities. Make sure you leave time for questions at the end!
The views expressed are those of the interview subject and do not necessarily represent the views of Michigan State University’s A-CAPP, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the U.S. Government.