Charlotte Secret Service office turns to businesses to fight rising cyber crime

About every other week, the Secret Service in Charlotte investigates a possible cyberattack against a business in Charlotte, said Glen Kessler, a special agent with the agency’s Charlotte office.

Two years ago, those attacks were occurring just once or twice every six months, Kessler said.

Growth like that helps explain why businesses and law enforcement in the U.S. are becoming increasingly concerned about cybercrimes – and why the Secret Service is looking for more businesses in Charlotte to help the agency fight them.

On Tuesday, the agency’s Charlotte Electronic Crimes Task Force, whose members include businesses, colleges and universities, and law enforcement, will gather in Charlotte for the task force’s quarterly meeting. The focus will be data breaches, such as the one affecting retailer Target about a year ago.

Kessler said the Charlotte task force, founded in 2005, has 200 members, including about 150 businesses. But he would like to see more businesses join at a time, he said, when cybercrime is “up across the board” in Charlotte.

“I would like to see us get every major company in the Charlotte region involved” in the task force “so we can benefit from each other’s knowledge of these types of cases,” he said.

Charlotte’s task force is one of 38 in the U.S. and overseas that grew out of the 2001 Patriot Act, which required the Secret Service to establish a nationwide task force network to combat cyber crime. Crimes investigated by the task forces can range from hacking cases to identity theft, among other things.

Kessler said Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Lowe’s and Family Dollar are among the Charlotte task force’s members. By being on the task force, they receive information about how they could better protect themselves. For instance, they may learn which types of malware are currently popular among criminals.

The Secret Service hopes more businesses join the task force at a time when some companies might not be reporting cybercrimes to law enforcement right away, he said.

The faster the Secret Service can get involved with an investigation, the more quickly it can assess the scale of the cyber attack, he said. But many smaller businesses wait to report an attack, perhaps in part because they don’t know to whom they need to file it, he said.

The most common type of cybercrime in the Charlotte region remains placing “skimming” devices on gasoline station pumps or automated teller machines to steal data from customers using credit and debit cards with magnetic strips, he said.

In a recent example of skimming in the Charlotte region, SunTrust Banks in October said it had to block credit and debit cards for some of its customers after devices were discovered on some of its ATMs in the area. SunTrust said it was issuing new cards to customers who had used the ATMs when the devices were present.

Kessler said that the large and well-organized groups of criminals involved in skimming cases mostly originate in Eastern Europe and travel the U.S. to install the devices in major metropolitan areas, such as Charlotte.

“Charlotte is the second-largest financial center” in the U.S., Kessler said. “It is a very tempting target for cybercriminals.”