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Feds use Facebook to track Florida tourists after fraud tip

Sometimes, news reports about crime can be frustrating. Not only are they often taken directly from prosecution or law enforcement press releases, they can leave out key information, making it difficult to get a full picture of the events.

A recent federal fraud case in Orlando seems pretty cut-and-dried based on the media reports, but the report leaves out information on what could be substantial constitutional issues. Granted, crime reporters aren’t given access to federal law enforcement secrets, but it’s important to note that the information is missing.

In this case, an unnamed federal agency allegedly received a tip about a Brazilian couple who was coming to Florida on vacation. The unidentified tipster gave pretty full information about the couple’s background and plans, and claimed that the main purpose of the trip was to deliver some $20,000 gained through credit card fraud to a courier. Moreover, the couple might be planning further credit card fraud in Florida.

It’s unclear whether the pair left their Facebook profiles publicly available or if a federal agent was able to gain access to their accounts in some other way. Either way, agents were able to monitor the movements of at least the male through vacation photos taken in front of area landmarks. They also apparently knew when he was scheduled to fly home.

Shortly before his Oct. 16 flight out of Orlando International, federal agents stopped him within the airport, where all bags are subject to warrantless searches. Inside his luggage, agents allegedly found thousands of dollars in cash, credit card blanks, and a laptop said to contain indications of a “credit card dump,” or a list of credit cardholders’ information.

Acting on information gained through interrogation, the agents were then able to pull a package out of the U.S. mail, which the man allegedly admitted having mailed earlier that day. Inside that package was said to be a magnetic encoding machine used to imprint blank credit cards with cardholders’ names, account numbers and expiration dates.

The man is charged with two federal counts of trafficking in counterfeit instruments. The woman has not been charged, but the investigation is ongoing.

Who was the source of the tip? By what method did agents access the man’s Facebook account? How did they obtain the mailed package? These and other important questions need answers, as they could indicate serious overreach by law enforcement.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, “Feds use Facebook to track credit-card fraud suspects vacationing in Orlando,” Amy Pavuk, Nov. 15, 2013

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