NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s safety department is creating a new unit to investigate identity theft crimes that local law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to target.
Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security Bill Gibbons announced on Tuesday that the 14-member unit would be made up of personnel from the Tennessee Highway Patrol, the state Office of Homeland Security and the Driver Services division.
The unit will also work with the U.S. Secret Service in Memphis and Nashville, the federal Homeland Security Investigations department and the FBI’s Memphis division.
Gibbons said identity theft and fraud crimes are a growing problem in Tennessee, but many local law enforcement agencies don’t have enough resources or manpower to investigate these crimes.
“When you go to local law enforcement agencies across the state, they will pretty much tell you that identity crime is one of the toughest types of crimes for them to investigate,” he said. “Very few police departments have investigators that have the expertise to investigate these types of crimes.”
Deputy Director Larry Godwin said the unit has already helped investigate a scheme involving Pell Grant money for higher education that was being run by a prison inmate in Mississippi and accounted for over $100,000 in fraud at several universities, including the University of Tennessee at Martin.
Gibbons noted that Tennessee law gives the THP the authority to investigate identity crimes, although the troopers are primarily known for traffic enforcement. He said there would not be an added cost for creating the unit, because they were pulling personnel from its departments.
Gibbons acknowledged that some of these crimes originate out of state or even sometimes overseas, which is why they are partnering with federal agencies that have wider areas of jurisdiction.
Rick Harlow, agent in charge of the Memphis field office for the Secret Service, said in the example of the investigation into the Pell Grant scheme, they were working across federal agencies and state lines in a case with multiple states and suspects.
“We are able to work this one case through several different jurisdictions, both federally and state,” Harlow said.
They won’t be handling all identity fraud cases in the state and will look at certain factors, such financial loss, connections to homeland security issues and violation of a felony theft law, to decide whether to take the case, Gibbons said.
The department has posted a resource kit online for identity theft victims at www.tn.gov/safety .