How Does The Secret Service Track Fugitives? One Romance Scammer Hunt Started With A Simple Text | #daitngscams | #lovescams

Of all the ways to track down a suspect, texting them to let them know they’re wanted for arrest, and that they should hand themselves in, is amongst the most brazen. But for the Secret Service, it paid off . 

In West Virginia this April, Abdul Inusah was indicted for allegedly carrying out a romance scam in which he was accused of creating various fake online personas to trick people into forming a relationship and to send money to the conspirator. In one case, Inusah allegedly convinced a victim he was a woman called Grace and that she owned a cocoa plantation in Johannesburg, South Africa. She needed money to maintain the plantation, which would be furnishing them with plenty of funds once they were married, and so the victim sent over some wire transfers, according to the indictment.

When the Secret Service, which was leading the investigation, couldn’t find Inusah, the lead investigator sent a text to what he believed was Inusah’s phone number. It started off pleasant enough: “Mr Inusah, call me sometime whenever you get a chance.” The next text was more alarming: “We have an arrest warrant out for you out of Huntington, WV, and want to arrange for you to turn yourself in.” 

The agent didn’t get a response, but they were called back by a lawyer claiming they’d been asked by Inusah to provide representation. The attorney declined and passed Inusah on to an associate, who also called the Secret Service investigator to tell them that they’d declined to represent the suspect, according to the government’s account. 

This was enough to convince the agent that the phone he’d texted really did belong 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 sends in the Stingray

Not long after, Verizon was ordered to provide the location data for the phone, but according to the search warrant, it wasn’t precise enough. Two weeks after the texts, the Secret Service deemed Inusah a fugitive and had concerns that he was also an illegal immigrant who was potentially about to fly away from justice. 

To get a more specific location, the Secret Service asked for what’s known as E-911 Phase II data. Normally this information is sent to emergency services to help them locate a caller, but as it’s something controlled by telecoms’ providers, it can be ordered by law enforcement to find devices. They also asked a judge to use an investigative tool known as a Stingray. These devices masquerade as a cell tower and, as devices connect in, look for the phone number in which they’re interested. They can then get the precise coordinates for the phone. These Stingrays, also known as cell-site simulators, have caused controversy in the past, as they suck up information of innocents and can disrupt their cell service, even if the police promise the impact is minimal and any data collected on nonsuspects is deleted. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) recently launched a bill that would require all law enforcement wanting to use a Stingray to first get a suitable warrant showing probable cause.

The court documents don’t show whether or not the surveillance worked, but they did get their man. Inusah was arrested on June 16. He has yet to make a plea and is out on a $10,000 bail. His counsel hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

This story is part of The Wire IRL feature in my newsletter, The Wiretap. Out every Monday, it’s a mix of strange true crime and real-world surveillance, with all the relevant search warrants and court documents for you to pore over. There’s also all the cybersecurity and privacy news you need to read. Sign up here.

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