How do the secret services track fugitives? A romantic scam hunt started with a simple text

Of all the ways to track down a suspect, texting him to let him know he’s wanted for arrest and must surrender is one of the bravest. But it paid off for the Secret Service.

In West Virginia in April, Abdul Inusah was charged with allegedly carrying out a romance scam in which he was accused of creating various fake characters online to trick people into dating and sending money to the conspirator. . In one case, Inusah allegedly convinced a victim that he was a woman named Grace and that she owned a cocoa plantation in Johannesburg, South Africa. She needed money to maintain the plantation, which would provide them with plenty of money once they were married, so the victim sent wire transfers, according to the indictment.

When the Secret Service, which was leading the investigation, could not find Inusah, the lead investigator texted what he believed to be Inusah’s phone number. It started off pleasantly enough: “Mr. Inusah, call me as soon as you get the chance.” The following text was more alarming: “We have an arrest warrant for you in Huntington, WV, and we want to arrange for you to surrender.” ”

The agent did not get a response, but they were called back by a lawyer who said Inusah had asked them to represent them. The lawyer refused and passed Inusah to an associate, who also called the Secret Service investigator to tell them they had refused to represent the suspect, according to the government account.

This was enough to convince the officer that the phone he had sent really belonged to Inusah and had recently been used by the suspect. Another clue came in the iPhone notification that the texts had been read.

Secret Service send the Stingray

Shortly after, Verizon was ordered to provide the phone’s location data, but according to the search warrant, this was not specific enough. Two weeks after the text messages, the secret service considered Inusah a fugitive and feared that he was also an illegal immigrant who was potentially on the verge of fleeing justice.

To get a more precise location, the Secret Service requested what is known as E-911 Phase II data. Normally, this information is sent to emergency services to help them locate a caller, but since this is an item controlled by telecommunications providers, law enforcement can order them to find devices. They also asked a judge to use an investigative tool called Stingray. These devices masquerade as a cell phone tower, and as the devices connect, look for the phone number they’re interested in. They can then get the precise coordinates of the phone. These rays, also known as cell site simulators, have sparked controversy in the past because they suck information from innocent people and can disrupt their cell service, even though police promise the impact is minimal and that all data collected on non-suspects is deleted. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon recently launched a bill this would require all law enforcement agencies wishing to use a Stingray to first obtain an appropriate warrant indicating probable cause.

Court documents do not show whether the surveillance worked or not, but they have found their man. Inusah was arrested on June 16. He has not yet pleaded and has been released on $ 10,000 bail. His lawyer had not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

This story is part of The Wire IRL column in my newsletter, The Wiretap. Released every Monday, it’s a mix of real weird crime and real world surveillance, with all the search warrants and relevant court documents you can dig into. There’s also all the cybersecurity and privacy news you need to read. Register now here.

About Geraldine Higgins

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