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Massachusetts' top prosecutor laughs off credit card fraud

Cheery news for would-be crooks

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Any would-be credit-card thieves will be cheered by the news that Massachusetts' chief prosecutor reckons the chances of catching crooks who steal credit card details to make purchases online are next to nil - even when they're attempting to defraud the attourney general herself.

Martha Coakley was a week away from being sworn into office, and about to go on a skiing trip, when she received a call from Dell saying that someone had ordered a $1,250 computer using her credit card details but to a delivery address in Texas. Coakley was able to cancel the transaction before the goods had shipped.

"I'm sure they didn't know she is the state's top prosecutor when they took the number," Coakley joked with the Boston Herald.

Crooks had somehow got their hands on Coakley's credit card details - it's unclear how. Unlike most victims of ID theft, Coakley was put through no more trouble than the minimal hassle involved in ordering a new card. Now she seems happy to laugh off the whole business. "There was no damage done," she said. "I was lucky to find out before someone went on a shopping spree."

Incredibly, Coakley reportedly went on to say that the chances of catching the crook - even for the state's top prosecutor - are slim to none. And even in the unlikely event they identified a suspect, Coakley is attributed as saying that jurisdictional issues would probably hamper any effort to prosecute.

Providing Coakley hasn't been misquoted, her blase attitude to credit card fraud is a bit surprising, but perhaps she doing us a favour in revealing an more-or-less open secret that low-level fraud rarely gets investigated.

The US Secret Service has a bottom limit of $2,000 before it bothers to investigate financial crime. Consumer watchdog the FTC has a similar limit. That still leaves it possible to local law enforcement agents to get involved, but if the crime originates from out of state, and involves a relatively modest amount, questions arise about whether they'd bother.

It all paints a rather depressing picture, especially when we consider that credit card fraud losses "are in the billions of dollars annually", according to industry sources cited by the US Secret Services. Credit card firms take account of these losses in constructing their business models so it's ultimately Joe Public who foots the bill. ®

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