MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A security breach at Target stores across the country left tens of millions of Americans vulnerable to identity theft.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s Financial Crimes Task Force works across the state to crack financial crimes. While the task force is not investigating what happened at Target, the agency is busier than it’s ever been.

It’s a crime that doesn’t play out like your typical cop drama. The smoking gun in these cases is a paper trail that can easily stretch across the globe.

“It’s this whole sequence of things that happens day in and day out,” Patrick Henry, commander of the Financial Crimes Task Force, said.

Unlike other crimes, financial fraud is considered much safer, so it’s committed by a wide-range of criminals according to Henry, “from gang bangers to more of the white collar types.”

Two years ago, the Task Force took down a $50 million identity theft ring that had more than 8,000 victims across the country. It went on for five years until a Wisconsin woman tipped investigators off to a storage locker in California full of passports, checks and credit card.

Some of the identities inside were stolen decades ago and still on the black market. Turns out, those behind it worked at banks in Minnesota.

“There were bank insiders that were charged and convicted,” Henry said.

Henry says the set-up is similar to what happens in drug rings — the leaders send out what they call runners with the stolen cards and checks. That way they won’t be seen on bank or store surveillance.

It’s why investigators do their best to get to the top.

“It’s a tough thing, just like in the drug industry, to move from one layer to the next to the next,” Henry said.

It’s a process the Task Force will repeat to protect personal information.

Henry said the best way to protect your identity is to sign up for a credit monitoring service and to check in every six months. He said it’s really the only way to know for sure. If not, he says people don’t usually realize their identity has been stolen until they apply for a loan.

For more information on the Task Force or to report an identity theft, use the following links:

Bureau of Criminal Apprehension: MN Financial Crimes Task Force
Office of Justice Programs: Identity Theft

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