Supreme Court To Decide If Warrant Needed To Search Cellphone

The U.S. Supreme Court is delving into the technology-versus-privacy debate, agreeing to hear two cases that test whether police making an arrest may search cellphones without a warrant.

The court’s announcement Friday that it would take the cases came just hours after President Obama outlined his proposals to address government retention of citizen phone data as part of his speech outlining reforms at the National Security Agency.

The court said it would hear arguments, likely in April, in two cases with conflicting decisions from the lower courts.

In one case, from California, David Riley was pulled over for expired tags. When police then discovered loaded guns in his vehicle, they arrested Riley and searched his smartphone. Investigators found photos and contacts linking Riley to gang activity, and prosecutors used the smartphone information at trial to win a conviction. Riley received a prison term of 15 years to life.

The California Supreme Court, which had previously ruled that such searches are legal, left Riley’s conviction in place.

Across the country, a federal appeals court in Boston reached the opposite conclusion, barring all warrantless cellphone searches except in emergency situations. The Obama administration appealed that ruling, contending that immediate searches of cellphones are especially important because the information contained in them can be so easily and quickly erased.

The Supreme Court’s eventual decision in these cases could lay the groundwork for future rulings on the NSA’s collection of cellphone metadata.

However the Supreme Court rules, its decision will have enormous practical consequences, since 90 percent of all Americans own mobile phones.

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KSDK reporter working on school safety story prompted Kirkwood High lockdown

An undercover television news story to test security in local schools triggered a lockdown Thursday at Kirkwood High, angering parents and raising questions about media ethics.

Students and teachers at the school were huddled in classrooms with the lights off for about 40 minutes Thursday afternoon after a man came into the school and asked to speak with security, then left.

The visit was one of five made by the television station to schools in the region aimed at exposing lapses in school security.

After hours of social media uproar, KSDK aired the news report at 10 p.m.

During the segment, the station showed how a staff member was unable to enter four schools unimpeded, but was able to walk right into Kirkwood High School, which had no buzzers at the door and whose entrance was not locked. The news report also questioned why the Kirkwood lockdown took place an hour after the reporter left the school building.

Even before the segment aired, KSDK used its 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. broadcasts to issue a statement standing by its reporting.

“This lockdown certainly was not the intent of our visit,” KSDK said in the statement, pointing out that the lockdown didn’t happen for an hour until after the reporter left. The station says the reporter “identified himself by name” to school officials. However, KSDK didn’t claim that he identified himself as a reporter.

“NewsChannel 5 will continue to be vigilant when it comes to the safety of our schools and your children within,” KSDK said.

Kirkwood School District spokeswoman Ginger Cayce said the incident highlighted problems in the district security Thursday. But she expressed frustration over the station’s handling of the situation.

“We learned some things from this, but we are still dismayed that a call was not given after to let us know this was a test,” Cayce said. “We could have prevented the alarm to our parents, students and staff.”

The KSDK reporter initially gave his name and cellphone number and when the Kirkwood High secretary left to get the school resource officer, the man left the office, Cayce said. Administrators became alarmed when he asked the location of a restroom, left the office, but went a different direction.

When they called his cellphone, he did not answer, but his voicemail said he was a KSDK reporter. Cayce said she tried three times to confirm with the news station that the man was actually with KSDK with no success.

“I told them ‘I’m going to have to go into lockdown if you can’t confirm that this was a test,’” she said. “When we couldn’t confirm or deny it, we had no choice.”

PANIC ENSUES

In the hours after the incident, some parents said that while they did not like the disruption, they were more concerned about possible lapses in security.
But more often, parents and others derided the station’s tactics on social media and on news story comments. That was especially true of Kirkwood parents, who spent the lockdown in a panic.

Stacey Woodruff said she was in tears when she first heard about the lockdown, and spent the entire time communicating with her 14-year-old daughter, who was in a math class, on her cellphone. She said her teacher was keeping the students calm.

“She kept saying, ‘Mom, I’m OK,” Woodruff said. “When I found out it was KSDK, I was and still am livid.”

Among the Kirkwood students on lockdown was freshman Caroline Goff, 14.

“We got the announcement over the intercom … then the principal walked by and said, ‘You need to lock the door and turn off the lights.’”

The students were instructed to stand against the walls, out of the sight from anyone passing in the halls. Caroline said they stood and listened for close to an hour, worrying that sounds they were hearing outside — including what were apparently police on the roof — were the noises of a gunman.

“We would hear footsteps … We were really scared, but we were all trying not to show it,” she said. “My teacher told our class that he would step in front of the person and let us all leave” if it came to that.

“We were scared that something was going to happen to us, like at Sandy Hook,” she said, referring to the 2012 school massacre in Connecticut.

Outside, Caroline’s father, Jeff Goff, was trying to figure out what was going on as police set up a perimeter. He said he noticed a media cameraman setting up outside the school immediately after the lockdown started, and wondered momentarily how the cameraman had managed to get there so quickly.

When rumors about KSDK’s role began circulating he called the station.

“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me, do you know what you just put us through? There’s a guy [a police officer] with an automatic rifle standing in front of the school!’ ”

Officials at elementary schools in the Francis Howell and Parkway school districts reported similar visits from a KSDK reporter on Thursday.

At Bellerive Elementary, a man was buzzed into the office and asked to speak with the person in charge of security. But the man was evasive about his identity and why he was there, said Paul Tandy, spokesman for the Parkway School District. Security was alerted. Administrators later confirmed with KSDK that a station employee was at the school with a hidden camera.

When speaking over the intercom from outside the doors of a Francis Howell elementary school, the reporter said he wanted to set an appointment with the office about school security.

A secretary at Becky-David Elementary greeted him at the door and asked more questions, and she thought his responses were vague. He eventually identified himself as being with KSDK and left, district spokeswoman Jennifer Henry said. School officials notified administrators, who also called KSDK.

REPORTING ETHICS

School shootings in recent years have prompted local and national debate about school security — and, in response, local and national media investigations of the issue, some of which have created controversy.
In 2006, The Poynter Institute, a respected national journalism foundation, tackled the issue of “Reporters Testing School Security.” Among the questions the piece suggests reporters should ask themselves before undertaking such an approach is, “How will the journalists’ intrusion affect the students? What kind of disruption could be caused, such as a lockdown?”

A related list of concerns includes the question: “Do we run the risk that our ‘reporting tactics’ will become the story rather than the public safety issue we are exploring?”

That has happened sporadically around the country in recent years.

In 2012, a Fargo, N.D., television reporter aired a story using a hidden camera to demonstrate that she could walk unimpeded through three local schools. After the story aired, school security was tightened — but the reporter also faced a police investigation for ignoring signs at the school warning all visitors that it was illegal to enter the school without checking at the school office.

Last year, two reporters for a high school newspaper in New York state did their own test of security at a neighboring school, walking through an unlocked door to demonstrate the lax security. They were ultimately apprehended by school security and taken to the principal, who, upon learning what they were doing, told them (according to one account) that they “would see the full extent of the security at the school” — and had them arrested for trespassing.

After the lockdown at Kirkwood High ended, Goff and his wife, Jenny Goff, “went and hugged” their daughter. “Life is precious these days,” Jeff Goff said.

“If someone else did this, they’d be arrested,” Goff said. “It’s just not smart, with all the things that have happened in our country.”

Miami Patient Recruiter Pleads Guilty for Role in $190 Million Medicare Fraud

A patient recruiter for a fraudulent Miami-area mental health company, American Therapeutic Corporation (ATC), pleaded guilty today for her participation in a $190 million Medicare fraud scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer of the Southern District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Michael B. Steinbach of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Christopher B. Dennis of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) Office of Investigations Miami Office made the announcement.

Miami resident Mayelin Santoyo, 28, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore in the Southern District of Florida to one count of conspiracy to receive health care kickbacks. Sentencing has been scheduled for March 28, 2014. On Nov. 25, 2013, co-defendant Jose Martin Olivares, 36, also a Miami resident and patient recruiter, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to receive health care kickbacks before U.S. District Judge Donald L. Graham for his role in this scheme. Olivares’s sentencing is set for Feb. 4, 2014.

According to court documents, Santoyo was a patient recruiter for the now-defunct ATC. ATC and its management company, Medlink Professional Management Group Inc., were Florida corporations headquartered in Miami. ATC operated purported partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), a form of intensive treatment for severe mental illness, in seven different locations throughout South Florida and Orlando.

Santoyo recruited Medicare beneficiaries to attend ATC’s PHP program in exchange for kickbacks in the form of checks and cash. The amounts of the kickbacks were based on the number of days each recruited patient spent at ATC. Santoyo knew that the patients she recruited for ATC were not qualified to receive PHP treatment.

ATC’s owners and operators paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to the owners and operators of various assisted living facilities and halfway houses, as well as to patient recruiters, like Santoyo, in exchange for delivering ineligible patients to ATC. According to court documents, to obtain the cash required to support the kickbacks to recruiters such as Santoyo, the co-conspirators laundered millions of dollars of payments from Medicare.

In related cases, ATC, Medlink and various owners, managers, doctors, therapists and patient recruiters of ATC and Medlink have already pleaded guilty or have been convicted at trial. In September 2011, ATC’s owner, Lawrence Duran, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for his role in orchestrating and executing the scheme to defraud Medicare.

This case was investigated by the FBI and HHS-OIG and was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, under the supervision of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. The case was prosecuted by Assistant Chief Robert A. Zink and Trial Attorney Anne P. McNamara of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, now operating in nine cities across the country, has charged more than 1,700 defendants who have collectively billed the Medicare program for more than $5.5 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.

Three Men from Tennessee Charged with Sex Trafficking

Granville Robinson, 25, aka Bear and HB, Duane Phillips, 28, aka P-nut, and Anthony Ellis, 25, aka Anthony Deshun Lloyd, Animal and AD, were arrested today for offenses related to their involvement in sex trafficking adult victims to New Orleans as charged in a five-count indictment dated Dec. 20, 2013, and unsealed today by Chief Judge Sarah S. Vance of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite Jr. for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Robinson, Phillips and Ellis are from Memphis, Tenn.

According to the indictment, from May 20, 2013, until Dec. 20, 2013, Robinson, Phillips and Ellis conspired to recruit, entice, harbor and transport several adult women by means of force, threats of force, fraud and coercion in order to engage in commercial sex acts in New Orleans and elsewhere. In addition to being charged with conspiring to commit sex trafficking, Robinson and Phillips are each charged with a substantive count of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, and with transporting women in interstate commerce for the purpose of prostitution between May 20, 2013, and July 2, 2013.

If convicted of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion, Robinson, Phillips and Ellis each face a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and a lifetime of supervised release. Robinson and Phillips face a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release if convicted of transportation for the purpose of prostitution.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

This case was investigated by agents from the New Orleans Field Offices of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the Memphis Field Office of the FBI. The prosecution of this case is being handled by Special Litigation Counsel John Cotton Richmond and Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Civil Right Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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Father Left Young Kids Alone in Truck to Go to Seminole Casino

A father is facing child neglect charges after authorities say he left his two young children in a truck while he went inside the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood Sunday.

Anthony Keith Wells, 47, was arrested after the two children, ages one and a half and three months, were left in the truck in the casino’s parking lot, according to the arrest report read in bond court Monday by Judge John Hurley.

Wells was ordered held on $2,000 bond and it was unknown whether he has an attorney.

According to the report, the children were found in Wells’ F-350 seat belted into their car seats with no food or water. They were in the car for at least an hour before police arrived, and the baby was screaming and crying, the report said.

Wells later came out of the elevator carrying boxes of food and drinks, and told officers he had gone to get something to eat, the report said.

The kids were taken to Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital to get checked out. Child Protective Services is investigating the incident.

“Sir, I’m very concerned with the level of neglect and at least, at a minimum, poor judgment you allegedly used in this matter. not only could something have happened to the children, they could have choked, who knows what could have happened in the vehicle,” Hurley said during Monday’s court appearance.

Hurley said Wells was lucky he was only arrested.

“As a side to everything, the children could have been abducted, someone could have gone by the car, seen two kids in the car and abducted the children,” Hurley said. “I can promise you the least of your worries right now would have been getting arrested. You could be standing here wondering whatever happened to your children and believe me, there are plenty of people out there who are willing to take your kids, I can assure you of that.”

Hurley decided not to raise the bond for Wells, saying he hoped the dad felt guilty enough. He did order him not to have contact with the children until another judge can make a decision on the matter.

“I’m hoping that the guilt and the maybe shame that this has brought on you which I believe it has, I think I’m looking at your body language and I believe you realize how serious a mistake in judgment this is, I think if I didn’t think that I may do things differently but I think you got it, I think you realize this is a major mistake in your life of poor judgment,” Hurley said.

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Boy, 12, faces battery charge in New Mexico school shooting

ROSWELL, N.M. — A 12-year-old boy accused of opening fire with a shotgun at a New Mexico middle school and seriously wounding two students, has been charged with three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, authorities said on Thursday.

The boy, Mason Campbell, will be tried as a juvenile in connection with the shooting at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, said New Mexico State Police Lieutenant Emmanuel Gutierrez.

The charges were filed in children’s court on Wednesday in the state’s Fifth Judicial District Court, and the documents name the accused child.

Campbell is believed to have taken a 20-gauge shotgun from his home, modified it and planned the attack. With the weapon concealed in a duffel bag, he entered the school gymnasium and opened fire on students waiting for classes to start, police said.

Investigators were also continuing to look into the possibility that Campbell warned some friends before carrying out the attack on Tuesday at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, police said.

Students were to return to the school on Thursday with an increased police presence in the area, a New Mexico State Police dispatcher said.

The shooting left an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl seriously wounded. There was no immediate word on a motive.

“We did find evidence that the suspect had planned this event,” New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas told reporters, while declining to reveal any more details.

The shooting was the second at a U.S. middle school in the past three months and comes in the midst of a contentious national debate on gun control that intensified after a gunman killed 26 people at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.

In the New Mexico shooting, the boy had modified the weapon and he had three rounds of birdshot in it, Kassetas said.

The shooter fired all three rounds, with one going into the ceiling of the gym, one into the floor and one 12 to 15 feet away, into the stands where students were gathered, Kassetas said at a news conference.

The shooting lasted just 10 seconds before a teacher, identified as John Masterson, stepped forward and persuaded the boy to put down his gun, officials said.

Juvenile charges

The suspected shooter was not charged as an adult because of his age, in accordance with New Mexico law. No one under age 14 in the state can face adult sanctions, authorities said.

The boy was being held at an “appropriate children’s facility” in Albuquerque, 170 miles to the northwest of Roswell, following the shooting said state police spokesman Lieutenant Emmanuel Gutierrez.

According to local media, the boy’s parents released a statement on Wednesday that said a judge has ordered the boy to undergo mental health evaluation and treatment.

“We are horribly sad over this tragedy on so many levels,” they wrote in the statement, which was also signed by the boy’s grandparents, according to two local television stations and CNN. “We are praying that God will be with everyone who has been affected.”

Reuters was not able to confirm the authenticity of the statement.

The students who were wounded did not appear to have been singled out, Kassetas said.

A spokesman for University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, to which both wounded children were airlifted on Tuesday and where they underwent surgery, said the boy was listed in critical condition, while the girl’s condition was said to be satisfactory.

In October, a 12-year-old boy in Sparks, Nevada, opened fire at his school, killing a teacher and wounding two students before killing himself.

Another shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December 2012 prompted President Barack Obama to call for sweeping new gun control measures.

Most of Obama’s proposals were defeated in Congress, but his administration this month sought new regulations aimed at clarifying restrictions on gun ownership for the mentally ill and bolstering a database used for firearms background checks.

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Judge grants six-month delay on letting gun shops set up in Chicago

A federal judge Tuesday granted the city the six months Mayor Rahm Emanuel said it needs to figure out where to allow gun shops in Chicago.

U.S. District Court Judge Edmond Chang said his decision balances the needs of the city to craft regulations with the public’s Second Amendment rights.

Pete Patterson, an attorney for gun rights advocates, told Chang the six-month time frame is too long. Patterson said the city acted far more quickly to a court ruling that overturned the statewide ban on carrying concealed weapons in Illinois.

But Andrew Worseck, a city Law Department attorney, said that in that case, the legal fight was far more prolonged — giving city officials more time to draft regulations.

After Tuesday’s brief hearing, Worseck told reporters he’s confident six months will be sufficient for the city to come up with rules regulating the sale of guns within Chicago.

“We will do everything we can to have a new package in place within 180 days,” Worseck said.

Last week, Emanuel said he would abide by the federal court ruling he views as a “straitjacket” but said he needs six months to set up rules and regulations and figure out where to put the gun stores.

On Tuesday, the mayor thanked the court for allowing him to buy time.

“Our goal is to create the strictest regulations that protect our residents and also comply with the court order without undermining the progress we have made in reducing violent crime,” the mayor said in a statement.

“We owe nothing less to the children, families and residents of Chicago than to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and straw purchasers.”

In a related matter, the City Council’s Budget Committee accepted a $150,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation that Emanuel intends to use to hire “someone with the expertise” to create a “gun violence prevention” plan for Chicago.

“We’d like to do some research into where illegal guns are being trafficked into the city, develop an interdiction plan, work on a strategy with our federal and local partners — including the state’s attorney’s office and federal prosecutors,” said Janey Rountree, Emanuel’s chief deputy for public safety.

“We’re also looking at ways that we can do better at preventing gun violence by working with CPS, by looking at how juveniles are diverted through the juvenile intervention and support center.”

Rountree noted that the Joyce Foundation has funded a “number of staff positions” for the mayors of Milwaukee, Minneapolis and other major cities in recent years, through a gun-control group spearheaded and primarily bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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Women arming themselves a growing trend

With feet positioned shoulder-width apart and eyes narrowing in on a target several feet ahead, arms and hands are steady and knees, slightly bent.

The top third of the forefinger rests on the trigger of a .38 revolver and the outline of a man is the target. First shot: It is powerful and loud, with the sound of the force muffled only by ear protection. The target is hit in the chest area. The shooter looks at the instructor slightly and she is told to continue. Second hit: chest. Third hit. Fourth.

“You actually did really good,” said Lt. Stephen Lavender, training bureau commander with the Montgomery Police Academy. “Want to do it again?”

The revolver is reloaded.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

It is a scenario Lavender handles on a frequent basis as he trains citizens through the academy’s Firearms Familiarization Course, a monthly eight-hour course designed to make firearm owners familiar with not only their weapon, but gun laws and the parameters they have to accept when owning a gun.

“Women are coming here to learn how to use the weapon,” he said. “And what we’re able to offer is more than just the ability to shoot.”

Nationally, more and more women are refining that ability.

According to Gallup poll data, the percentage of American women who own a firearm nearly doubled from 2005-2011, rising from 13 percent to 23 percent. In August, the National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that 37 percent of new target shooters are female, though they comprise only 22 percent of the established target-shooting population.

Dennis Cotton has seen those numbers.

As the project manager of the Alabama Shooting Complex located on the north side of Talladega, he said women are the largest growing group of shooters. The 800-acre complex is a full-service shooting complex that will address pistol, rifle and shotgun sports and archery. Within 35 miles of the complex, and of the 345,000 shooters within that range, 51 percent are women, Cotton said. The majority of the women are between the ages of 25 and 64 years old.

“Women are enjoying it,” he said. “They like to have the ability to protect themselves. It’s wide range, from teens to grandmothers.”

A steady increase
At The Gun Shoppe on Bell Road, owners Doug and Marsha Williamson have seen a steady increase in women purchasing firearms over the past five to seven years.

“I think they realize in the society we live in they are not always in a group where gentlemen are around, and they are taking personal responsibility for that,” Doug Williamson said. “These ladies have (made) the decision to be able to prepare … to take care of themselves. We have been giving classes to the private sector for almost 15 years.”

While many women still participate in the store’s co-ed classes, in the past three or four years, there has been an increase in interest in the ladies-only classes.

“… Since we offered specifically ladies-only courses for those who have had no previous exposure to firearms, and make sure everybody is accommodated according to their skill level, we’ve had more interest,” he said.

Most of the time, Williamson said, the women say they want to use the weapons safely, and that they want to learn to shoot because “they might need to use it for self-defense. The way we explain all of this is that they need to understand the Alabama provision … the aggressor must have the ability to do you bodily harm. We don’t make any recommendations in how they should deal with a situation. All we can do is explain to them what the code says and what the law says about it and what the jury looks at if there is a case of self-defense.”

The three components

During training, Lavender teaches students what to think about when deciding whether to shoot if confronted: ability, capability and jeopardy.

“Does the person have the ability to cause harm, are they capable of causing harm — that depends on if they come through that barrier, like if they are in your house,” he said. “Jeopardy is the number one thing we get them to think about because jeopardy asks them to look at ‘If I don’t do something right now, am I going to die or be seriously injured?

“If they can couple all this together, they are likely in the parameters of using deadly force to stop that person,” Lavender said. “We look at all sorts of things. Gender is always a key. How big is that male versus that female? I don’t have any self-defense tactics … even if I knew it, he would overcome it. In those efforts, we tell them to look at that.”

Lavender points out the Firearms Familiarization Course is designed to teach students to “stop, not kill.

“They also teach them to render aid. If they are breathing their last breath, they will stay down,” he said.

Teaching women

They work in attorney offices, are city employees, and even teachers. Those in the course with the Montgomery Police Academy are between the ages of 21 through their 70s.

They are of all backgrounds and are taught immediately that pulling out a gun is not a bargaining tool.

“If you pull it out, it is intended to use,” Lavender said. “If you can’t answer the three components, don’t use it as a bluffing tool. They’ll come take it from you.”

Asked whether burglars take seriously women who have guns, he said yes: “More than likely they’ll run, because they didn’t come to die.”

Women are taught to always have their pistol permit on them, otherwise it is a violation of carrying a concealed weapon, Lavender said.

“We try to make sure we paint a clear picture with everything that has to do with being a responsible carrier,” he said.

A lot of the women who take the course have guns, but have never shot them, Lavender said. It sits in a locked box and they never touch it — until crime spikes and they want to learn how to use it.

“We want to build confidence in them,” he said, “especially when they hit the center of that target. If they don’t, we sit here until they do.”

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Target cards breach shows how U.S. lags in shopper data security

NEW YORK — The security breach of credit and debit card data at Target Corp. is evidence of the increasing threats retailers face and a reminder that the U.S. lags behind much of the world in securing personal financial information.

Target, the second-largest U.S. discount chain, said Thursday that data for about 40 million debit and credit cards may have been wrongfully accessed from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15. Law enforcement, including the U.S. Secret Service, and the state attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts are looking into the matter.

The breach occurred when a computer virus infected Target’s point-of-sale terminals, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the investigation is private. Swiping cards had been considered safer than shopping online because the data is harder to steal, according to Dan Kaminsky, co-founder and chief scientist at White Ops, a cybersecurity firm in New York.

“Attacks of this scale are common, but attacks that get this class of data are unusual,” Kaminsky said. “It’s a war out there.”

While swiping devices have been hacked in the past, the incidents typically occurred at a single machine or store, not chain-wide, which is why this breach is troubling, Kaminsky said. Target said account numbers, expiration dates, cardholder names and credit verification value, or CVV, had been compromised. That kind of data could be used to make counterfeit credit cards, Kaminsky said.

Many nations have done away with the magnetic strips still used in the U.S. and moved to chips embedded in the cards that are harder to compromise. The U.S. payments industry has said it will replace magnetic strips by 2020; that deadline may be moved up in the wake of this incident, Kaminsky said.

Data breaches have hit other retailers in the past. TJX Cos., owner of the T.J. Maxx and HomeGoods chains, reported in 2007 that hackers broke into its computer system and stole about 45.7 million credit and debit card numbers. The theft set a record at the time for such breaches. In 2009, the company paid $9.7 million in a settlement with 41 U.S. states over the loss of customer data.

In July, four Russians and a Ukrainian were charged in what prosecutors called the largest hacking scheme in U.S. history, a break-in to computers of retail chains that included 7-Eleven Inc., Carrefour SA and Wet Seal Inc. and more than 160 million credit card numbers.

Global card fraud losses for banks, merchants and processors climbed 15 percent to $11.3 billion last year from 2011, according to the Nilson Report, a payments industry newsletter based in Carpinteria, California.

Target’s security and public-relations challenges come as U.S. retailers gear up for the end of a holiday shopping season that ShopperTrak predicts will be the slowest since 2009. The last thing Target needs as rivals pour on discounts in a last- ditch grab for market share is for its customers to wonder if they should use their cards, said Ken Perkins, an analyst for Morningstar Inc. in Chicago.

“The timing could be a concern, especially only a few days before Christmas,” he said in an interview.

Molly Snyder, a spokeswoman for Target, declined to comment on the cause of the breach, citing the investigation.

Target has 1,797 stores in the U.S. and 124 in Canada. The stock had gained 5 percent this year, compared with a 42 percent gain for Standard & Poor’s 500 Retailing Index.

The breach came after the chain had already cut its annual forecast for same-store sales growth to 1 percent from as much as 2.5 percent in August. Doubts about its security could reduce purchases and the number of people signing up for a REDcard, its in-house credit and debit cards, Perkins said. Those cardholders are the retailer’s biggest spenders, he said.

Jami Aspenwall, a 36-year-old mother of five from Cartersville, Ga., said she canceled her Target-issued debit card after someone made $500 in purchases with it. Those losses will now force her to postpone a trip to Tampa, Fla., to see relatives for Christmas because her bank said it may take two weeks to get the money back.

“We’ll have to sit down with the kids tonight and tell them your trip is likely on hold,” said Aspenwall, a stay-at- home mother of kids ranging from 3 to 18 years old. “I don’t want to ruin their Christmas. It’s not their fault.”

Shoppers at Target.com might be spooked, too. A link across the top of the site Thursday read: “important notice: unauthorized access to payment card data in U.S. stores.”

“Target’s first priority is preserving the trust of our guests and we have moved swiftly to address this issue, so guests can shop with confidence,” Chief Executive Officer Gregg Steinhafel said Thursday in a statement.

The credit-card companies said they were aware of the breach and were working with Target and law enforcement. Representatives from Discover Financial Services, Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc., American Express Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. all said customers wouldn’t be responsible for fraudulent purchases made on their accounts.

In a letter posted on its website, Target encouraged customers to report any unusual activity on their accounts to their financial institutions. Target also said customers could call the company for assistance.

The retailer’s customers took to social media to voice displeasure about the breach and not being able to contact the company about their REDcard accounts.

One was Stephanie Manzano, a 28-year-old from Federal Way, Wash., who swore off Target after learning that data had been compromised. She canceled her Target debit card after not being able to reach the retailer’s customer service. She now plans to shift her shopping to Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

“It’s very stressful,” Manzano, a mother of a special- needs child, said in a phone interview. “I kept calling Target, and I just got a busy signal. While I’m trying to call them, someone could take my identity and take my money. With a special-needs child, you’re worried about your finances. We’re a one-income household, we can’t afford that.”

Target is working to fix online access to account information, Snyder said. She didn’t respond to a separate request for comment on reports of fraudulent charges and canceled cards.

_ With assistance from Paul Jarvis in London, Steven Komarow and Margaret Talev in Washington and Fanni Koszeg and Elizabeth Dexheimer in New York.

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Antioch Police say Target employee helped find abducted girl

ANTIOCH, Calif. — Antioch Police are praising a Target Store employee in Pittsburg for helping bring a child’s kidnapping ordeal to an end.

“When I first spotted him in the store, I thought he was going to shoplift,” said 22-year-old Roxanna Ramirez.

Ramirez had no way of knowing the stranger she was watching, 43-year-old David Douglas, would later become the prime suspect in the armed abduction of a seven year old girl in Antioch.

What Ramirez noticed, was a shopper behaving suspiciously.

“He had a backpack, and he was picking things up and putting them down in the men’s department,” recalled Ramirez.

As a loss prevention specialist, it’s her job to monitor unusual behavior, so she followed Douglas for a time, even asking him is he needed help. He said no.

Then, she went to her office and watched him on surveillance cameras.

“He was fidgeting around, acting really weird, abnormal. I don’t know, it just didn’t make me feel comfortable,” Ramirez elaborated.

After he left the store, she continued to watch him remotely as he went to his car, and rifled through his backpack, occasionally leaving the car to pace and smoke, then returning.

“At one point, I saw him grab his steering wheel and start to shake it, and that was really off to me,” Ramirez noted. “That’s when I really know something was wrong with him.”

She wrote his license plate number in the little notebook she always carries, and didn’t think about it again until that night, when her girlfriend told her a child had been abducted.

“She read the description of the car, and I was like, ‘hold on’, that sounds like somebody I saw earlier at my job! It fits the same description,” said Ramirez. “I was like ‘It’s kinda weird’ and she said, ‘you should call.’”

Ramirez called the plate in, and it led to Douglas, which led to the Antioch Marina, where police have had encounters with him before. He was apprehended, and the girl reunited with her family, four hours after she was taken.

Police came to Ramirez’s door about midnight to tell her that her tip had made the difference.

“They said I helped crack the case, and my heart just dropped, like, really? I couldn’t believe it” said a still incredulous Ramirez.

“She is a true hero,” acting police Capt. Tammany Brooks told KTVU. “We at the Antioch Police Department applaud people like Roxanna Ramirez who are willing to step forward to make our community a safer place. It’s a collaborative effort.”

Ramirez said she is simply glad she could play a part in bringing the young victim to safety.

“I’m happy that she’s home, and gets to spend the rest of this time with her family because not all kidnappings end like this. It feels really good.”

And she hopes her experience encourages everyone to listen to their gut instincts. In Roxanna’s words, when something doesn’t feel right, “Run with it.”

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