If someone uses a stolen credit card to make a purchase online, who foots the bill? Most believe that the credit card companies cover it. Wrong. They protect the consumer, not the business. When credit card companies reverse a charge for consumers, the business no longer has the funds. However, the business may have already shipped off goods to the criminal. You might think that the company could recover their goods through the actions of law enforcement chasing down the criminal because they would have the address it was shipped to. Wrong again. It isn’t that easy.

My experience has been eye opening. We’ve been successfully hit by fraud only a few times in our eight-year existence. Most attempted fraud is obvious. I don’t think Mary Jane Smith has a relative in Nigeria who wants several thousand units of an energy drink. But one recent successful domestic attempt introduced me to the difference between my perception of our law enforcement system and the reality.

We contacted our county sheriff’s department and a deputy was dispatched over to us, and I let him know the story. He said the belief of law enforcement is that it is a company’s duty to protect against fraud. He explained that there are not enough resources to keep violent criminals in jails, so “property crimes” are so far down the list that they are of little importance to law enforcement. He could take a report and send it to the Bronx PD and the FBI, but he guaranteed that it’d be met with the wastebasket. This is what happens when their property crime reports get sent to the LAPD, he said, so he didn’t imagine any other office reacting differently.

The message I received was: “Shame on you that the criminal won and you lost.”

E-commerce store owners can protect themselves and try to win against this type of fraud by using the service of one of the several third-party “anti-fraud” companies out there. Some use internationally collected IP addresses and complex algorithms; others do instant call-backs to cellphone numbers to verify purchaser identities. For anything that gets through their systems, though, the store has to live with that powerless feeling of watching the criminal get away with it.

The sheriff deputy’s budget argument led me to think about the larger picture that perhaps escapes some politicians. The damage caused by our fraudulent incident, taken in an aggregate sense across all companies, means less tax revenue collected by the county/city/state/national government, less profit generated by the companies, less money for new jobs, etc. Perhaps there should be more of a budget set aside to enable law enforcement to go after these property crimes. If it could pay for itself in positive economic impact, then it would be worth it.