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Nineteen years is a long time. Good old John Cooke is now old enough to go to war (in a way, he has), vote (he has), buy lottery tickets (occasionally, when LOTTO goes high enough), buy cigarettes (never) and buy porn (seriously doubtful.)
In two more years he’ll be old enough to drink alcohol (Bailey’s, yeah) and play Bingo (not likely.) It is indeed a strange world and a strange system of doing things.
In the June/July 1994 issue editorial, while chastising investigators for wasting valuable resources on tracking his identity, doing visual surveillance, bothering the landlord and ordering countless paid database inquiries, we described John as more representative of a spirit than of a single individual, pen in hand, sharing fraud stories. The words that this magazine grew up on were “communication” and “education.” It was like a mantra, and in many ways it has served many of us well.
In the last issue, we covered the “return to print” reasons. That Editor’s column was obviously written before the drive to the printer’s office. Walking in their front door, a 4gb thumb drive — the size of a bumble bee — in hand, felt strange because it brought back a surge of memories from our earliest efforts. Our tools then were a 286 computer, a laser printer, an Exacto knife, a stack of big/heavy blue lines and a light board. While the overall appearance of our end product is much the same as it was then, the tools have drastically changed.
And so it is with fraud.
The Internet, electronic files, predictive analytics, Google, social media, RFD chips, and so much more has trickled onto the fraud scene. When John first hit the streets, neighborhood searches were accomplished by driving 30 miles and knocking on doors — now he needs only to zoom into any neighborhood in the world (on a variety of web sites), and with a few additional clicks on tracking sites, he can definitively learn what brand of underwear the perp wears.
On the other side of the coin, much of the very same technology that was helping us solve the crimes was also helping the dark side, the perpetrators of the crimes. Instead of producing fake IDs on photo copy machines with (now unbelievably) low dpi ability, they were buying the new ones, the ones that would spit out a document that would fool almost anyone who looked at it. The more tools we got to fight things like credit card fraud, the more ways they dreamed up to get around our new tools and use them, instead, to their own advantage. Technology was (and is) both our best friend and our worst enemy.
However even with all of the technological changes, the whole mantra of “communication” and “education” has not changed a bit. Even though our methods have improved with respect to accuracy, ease, speed and amount of actual detail, the necessity of communication (no matter the method) and of ongoing education (the real time kind, not the office manual kind) has remained intact.
I didn’t fully realize that fact on the day that we dropped off the 50+ megabyte pdf file, let a machine read the mag stripe on the company Am-Ex card, and placed our March/April order — but it all fell into place a week later when those first copies found their homes in offices around the country. That was when the calls and emails began to arrive on some of the things we covered.
If you saw that March/April issue, the cover story was on a predominately “ethnic” Death for Dollars” case taking root in certain areas of the country. (If you missed that story, it is easily accessible on our website if you have an ID/password.) Ring! The Texas DOI had some dead bodies directly associated with our cover story; ring, the New Jersey authority had their own file set up and the names were linking up; ring, ring, ring; the FBI had done some Florida interviews on other associated players. We heard from Southern California, smack-dab- Middle-America, the great Northwest, the Midwest and the South.
The phone is ringing again. Amazing how it stops when all you have is an Internet presence. And people-to-people communication magically turns into education. In the past two days, I have heard two entirely new scams — this from a long-time fraud-fighter who thought she’d heard every story in the book. I’m no longer only learning in generalities from Internet stories; I’m again learning from people-to-people contact that provides me with specifics and instant interaction. I’m a wet sponge again, hydrating via shared information from all kinds of people and places.
There is power in information and the ability to share it. Believing that you can make a difference is what it takes to actually make that difference. I lost it for a while there, but it’s all coming back. Walking the endless rows of the RIMS conference in LA, swapping stories with the T(exas)IASIU folks at their Houston Seminar, “finding” 1600 (and counting) of my best fraud-fighting friends on LinkedIn (Leslie Kim John-Cooke), renewing old friends/contacts and making new friends/contacts.
This “spirit” wants to make a difference. Communication + Education = Change.+ Progress