Fraud on Facebook: Reckless acts of crooks on social media
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The post could not have been more obvious, nor could it have been in a more public place.
The WMC Action News 5 Investigators screen-captured a post on the Facebook East Memphis ReSale page, one of the largest Mid-South buy/sell/trade community pages with more than 27,000 members. The post, originating from the account of Tabitha Bruce of Hickory Hill, advertised "legitimate verifiable" paycheck stubs for $25.
After we submitted a copy of the post to them, investigators for both the Shelby County Sheriff's Office and the Memphis Police Department said there's nothing "legitimate" about the advertised pay stubs.
"They can be used to falsify someone's income," said Lt. David Ballard of the Shelby County Sheriff's ALERT Unit. "They could apply for a car loan. They can falsify tax returns. You can use it to falsify insurance. It's endless what you can do with a document of that nature."
"It would be a case of fraud," said Lt. David Sloan of the Memphis Police Department's Economic Crimes Bureau.
The post's attempt at a fraud was so obvious, the ReSale page's members called it out right there in the post's comments section. "Fraud?" typed one member. "How is this legal?" wrote another. The poster, presumably Tabitha Bruce, took a few of them to task until another posted, "Girl you might wanna delete the post from this site because it's a lot of police people on here." That's when the post disappeared.
But not before we captured it and turned it over to Sloan's detectives. "That's enough to launch a case," Sloan said. He said just the posting of the obviously fraudulent document, even if it didn't generate a sale, could land a charge of forgery, criminal simulation or computer crime. "The simple act of just producing or generating these types of fraudulent documents, that's a crime in and of itself," he said.
According to a 2014 FBI Internet crime report, the latest year of data available from the agency, 12 percent of all crime complaints to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center originate with a social media post. That's an average of 92 complaints a day. "IC3.gov will track and report to the appropriate (FBI) field office complaints regarding criminal behavior online when it occurs on social media, like Facebook," said Special Agent Joel E. Siskovic of the FBI's Memphis field office.
"We get complaints daily," Ballard said. "Because we're constantly watching social media, it makes for quicker and easier arrests."
The ALERT unit recently arrested 27-year-old Jermaine Brunson of the Oakhaven/Airport area. According to the arrest report, Brunson advertised the sale of an air compressor on a Facebook market page. The report indicated the air compressor matched the description of one stolen from a home in Cordova, Tennessee. Brunson's Facebook post advertised the air compressor, valued at $700, at the bargain price of $200. His pricing of the compressor on the very public social medium helped incriminate him in the crime, said Ballard.
"Absolutely," Ballard said. "We called the guy, set up a meet. We go over there, and he's got our guy's air compressor. I mean, they're doing the research for you. They're coming to your doorstep and saying, 'We're committing this crime,' when they use social media." ALERT detectives arrested Brunson and charged him with burglary and theft of property. He's free on a $10,000 bond. His court hearing is scheduled for August 24.
We turned the social media table on Tabitha Bruce. After tracing her to several phone numbers that were no longer connected to her, we found her active phone number on her Instagram page. In a phone conversation, Bruce acknowledged the fake pay stub offer under her name, but she said someone hacked her Facebook account and posted it there.
"Someone who has my passcode is doing this," she said. "Who it is, I don't know. I wouldn't sell illegal paycheck stubs." Bruce initially agreed to conduct an on-camera interview to clear her name. She requested that she call back to schedule the interview when she wasn't so busy. She never called back, even after we made repeated follow-up calls to schedule the interview.
Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.