Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of check and card fraud. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy later on.  

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask in analyzing your particular problem of check and card fraud. (Depending on the local circumstances, you may need to focus on one specific type of fraud. In general, it is best to focus on one small aspect of the problem at a time, such as a single merchant or bank.) Your answers to these questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Incidents

  • Have checks or cards been targeted in other crimes such as burglaries of homes and offices, pickpocketing in shopping malls, muggings, and thefts from cars?
  • When you receive reports of check or card fraud, what kinds of offenses do they usually entail: check alteration, card counterfeiting, assaults at ATMs, Internet fraud, etc.?
  • Who typically reports these crimes: checking or card account holders, retailers, banks, or card issuers?
  • Is online fraud (from card-not-present sales) a problem in your area? Online fraud may become apparent when fraudsters order online but arrange to pick up merchandise at the store. Do merchants report any such instances?
  • Are there any cases of parcels stolen or "lost" during delivery of items ordered online?
  • Are there known fencing operations in or near your area? If so, what kinds of items are most commonly fenced, and are they traceable to any local stores? Do new items frequently appear in pawnshops?
  • What national, regional, or local databases do public or private agencies maintain concerning check and card fraud?

Offenders

  • Do fraudsters work alone, or in groups? How many work alone? How many work with others? How and where do they get together? How do they offend together? Why do they offend together? (Arrested offenders are a good information source, but remember that they may differ from active fraudsters in important ways. In addition, they may be reluctant to share information if they are concerned about three-strikes laws.)
  • What are fraudsters' demographic characteristics, such as age and gender? What is their ethnicity, as this may relate to the source of counterfeit or stolen cards, or the targeting of victims?
  • Where do fraudsters live, work, or hang out?
  • Do they know their victims?
  • How active are fraudsters? Do particular offenders account for a few frauds, or many? Do they specialize in one particular type of check or card fraud?
  • What, specifically, motivates fraudsters? Do they need quick cash to party or to support a family? Are they addicted to drugs, and if so, to what? Are they recently jobless, or are they long-term offenders?
  • Do they show evidence of planning their crimes, or do they take advantage of easy opportunities?
  • What special skills and techniques do they use to commit their crimes?

    † In one study, fraudsters had worked out over 100 different ways of committing credit card fraud ( Jackson 1994). In another, offenders displayed considerable innovation in switching from one technique of check forgery to another (Lacoste and Tremblay 2003). [Abstract only]

Victims

  • How do individuals respond to their victimization? (It is likely that you will rarely speak with cardholders, because they usually report stolen cards to the card issuers, rather than to the police.)
  • Are particular individuals repeatedly victimized? If so, why?
  • How do businesses respond to their victimization? Do they routinely report check and card fraud to the police? (Some may be unwilling to do so for fear that police attention will drive business away, or, in the case of card fraud, because they do not have to bear the loss.) What kinds of stores report fraud: small family stores, large retail chains, supermarkets, local or regional banks, etc.? Why do they report it?
  • What are merchant attitudes regarding police involvement in dealing with fraud?
  • What procedures do they have for detecting or preventing fraud?
  • Are particular businesses repeatedly victimized? If so, why?

Locations/Times

  • Does check and card fraud occur in a specific area, on a particular day, and/or at a particular time?
  • Are specific types of places targeted, such as supermarkets, electronics stores, retail chains, restaurants, or online stores?
  • Do muggings or thefts from cars that entail theft of credit cards occur in neighborhoods where drug dealing is common?
  • Does fraud occur at checkout in local stores?
  • How do fraudsters travel to and from the scene?
  • If fraudsters make "card-not-present" purchases, do they use the telephone or the Internet? Do they call stores from home or from public phones? Do they access online stores from home computers or those available in public places (e.g., college campuses, public libraries, Internet cafés)?

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers. ) It should be emphasized that some measures will depend on merchants' providing information and establishing systematic procedures for collecting the data you need. You will need to convince merchants that the loss-prevention benefits will offset the data-collection costs, and that data collection is necessary for a cost/benefit analysis.

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to check and card fraud:

  • Fewer repeat offenders.
  • Increased reporting of check and card fraud.
  • Decreases in retail losses attributed to check and card fraud. Retailers may use the number of transactions, or the total amount of sales, as the base against which they compute losses.
  • Differences in reported frauds between stores or banks where you focus your activities and those where you do not (keeping in mind that changes may be due to other factors, and that reported crime does not always reflect actual crime).
  • Reductions in related crimes such as burglaries, thefts from cars, or robberies at ATMs where credit or bankcards may be a prime target (keeping in mind that changes may be due to other factors related to those crimes). 24
  • Increases in some related crimes when fraudsters' efforts are thwarted and they shift to easier targets (displacement). One study has suggested that acquisitive crime may increase as credit card fraud decreases. 25 Other studies have found that fraudsters tend not to switch easily between different types of credit card fraud 26 though they are resourceful in shifting between different types of check fraud, or at least in inventing new ways to commit check fraud. 27
  • Reductions in the amount of new products fenced or available in pawnshops.
  • Fewer reports of lost or stolen goods purchased for home delivery.