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Inside Florida’s Response to Cyber Fraud

During a recent cybersecurity conference in Tampa, a special agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the chief of cyber fraud enforcement from the Office of the Attorney General discussed how they work together to respond to cyber fraud.

Closeup of a person presumed to be a hacker typing on a laptop.
During the recent Sunshine Cyber Conference hosted by Cyber Florida in Tampa, Corey Monaghan, a special agent from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), and Whitney Mackay, chief of cyber fraud enforcement for the Florida Office of the Attorney General, discussed how they work together to respond to cyber fraud within the state.

To kick things off, Monaghan explained how the state has cyber and high-tech crime squads across seven regions throughout the state, including Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, Miami and Tallahassee.

Currently, the agency has six cyber fraud analysts investigating these types of complaints.

With that understanding, Monaghan said, “Our main mission is to return funds. We’re seeing a lot of money mules on our side, which are people these criminal organizations recruit. They go in and set up bank accounts at your local businesses, and the funds are transferred to them first, and then they’re transferred overseas.”

In these cases, “we go and make contact with these people,” Monaghan said. “They understand that they’re doing something wrong. They may not know how the criminal enterprise works, but they know that there’s money coming in, they take a cut, and they forward that money out.”

From there, the suspect can either be charged if enough evidence is present or they can help provide important information that can be used to track down bigger threat actors, which ties into the squads’ other goals of forming partnerships and sharing what they know with local agencies.

As for prosecuting crimes, that’s where the Florida Attorney General’s Office comes in.

“We realized we really needed this partnership with statewide prosecution, which is based here in Tampa,” Monaghan said.

According to Mackay, the Cyber Fraud Enforcement Unit aims to address major cyber fraud crimes where the victims or perpetrators reside in Florida.

Computer network systems, cyber space and smartphone apps used to commit or facilitate fraud fall under this category of crime. Other cyber crimes might involve cryptocurrency or include unauthorized network access, identity theft, account takeovers and romance and investment scams.

The Cyber Fraud Enforcement Unit and FDLE work together through Cyber FAST, which stands for Cyber Fraud Analytics Support Team.

“Cyber FAST was formed by Attorney General Ashley Moody and Commissioner Mark Glass in 2022 as a force multiplier to prevent and handle the increasing number of complex cyber fraud cases impacting Florida,” FDLE’s website states. “Cyber FAST analysts work daily with the Office of Statewide Prosecution, local law enforcement, and state and local agency partners.”

The website also states that in 2023 alone, the Cyber FAST team logged more than 1,000 hours of fraud and cryptocurrency investigations training and investigated 22 cases with $15.8 million in losses.

Regarding cryptocurrency, Mackay said, cyber fraud prosecutors and Cyber FAST analysts provide a first-of-its-kind service to law enforcement agencies, allowing them to seize illicit cryptocurrency funds.

To achieve this, search and seizure warrants, an FDLE-controlled wallet with transfer instructions in the case any money is recovered from a particular crime, in-house forfeiture attorneys, and oversight of liquidating funds in the form of restitution to victims and preplanned disbursement to involved agencies, are provided through the partnership.

More information about the partnership can be found online.
Katya Diaz is an Orlando-based e.Republic staff writer. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.