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Jewish World Review April 18, 2001 / 25 Nissan, 5761

Larisa Brass

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Consumer Reports

Private analyst tracks down tech-savvy thieves -- WITHOUT a handgun, hidden recorder or law enforcement degree, David Jenkins began stalking a group of criminals involved in a $1 million credit card scam.

What he did have was a computer, an eye for the irregular and a year and a half of patience.

Little by little he built the case and then handed it over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI responded by arresting seven suspects who were indicted, convicted and are now being sentenced in a California court. The FBI also gave Jenkins, an investigative analyst with Nova Information Systems in Knoxville, Tenn., a commendation for his efforts.

The case, said Jenkins and his boss, Grey Steed, epitomizes the direction of the new economy, in which businesses and law enforcement must work together to track down tech-savvy thieves who leave only digital clues.

It's also a pretty impressive feat for the 25-year-old Jenkins, who started his career with Nova four years ago in the file room. Then he got a job as a delivery guy, bringing office supplies to different parts of Nova's office, which houses much of the Atlanta-based credit card service company's operations.

Jenkins talked his way into his job, he said, where he has worked full time while finishing a bachelor's degree in economics. He is one of about 50 investigative analysts at Nova, who spend their time scanning the credit card transactions of the company's approximately 600,000 business customers.

Nova is what's known as a credit card processor, a company that serves as a sort of middleman between banks and merchants. Acquirers front money to the businesses before the transaction clears the bank and facilitate the connection between the bank and business.

But the growing number of credit card transactions and the budding Internet economy makes the credit card industry attractive to white-collar criminals hoping to hide behind electronic disguises.

In this case, said Jenkins, the perpetrators acquired a terminal used to swipe credit cards during a sale. Then they cloned the identifications of four other merchants, using those accounts to charge funds in amounts of $25,000 to $150,000.

Jenkins was able to use Nova's existing records and computer software capabilities to find the merchant identifications and eventually the exact location of the criminals. This is the first time Nova has worked so closely with the FBI, Steed said, but it won't be the last.

Currently Nova is working with the FBI on about 20 other cases and with local law enforcement in about a dozen more.

And credit card acquirers, hesitant to cooperate with the competition, are beginning to work together to stem the tide of credit card fraud.

"This is a burgeoning field," Jenkins said. "The potential not only for profits but for loss is essentially unknown, so it's unlimited."

Larisa Brass writes for The Knoxville News-Sentinel. Comment by clicking here.


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