Just about any time people talk about the United States Secret Service, they speak about it in connection with its protection of Presidents and other prominent political figures. Almost never do people speak about the Secret Service’s other mandate, which actually turns out to have been its original mandate. Let me tell you a little about it.
Back in the 1800s, the US financial system looked nothing like it does now. Each state issued its own currency through its local banks. Therefore, New York currency was different from Minnesota currency, and so on. Because there were so many different types of legal currency, opportunities for counterfeiting were rife and taken. By the time Abraham Lincoln was president, more than a third of the currency in circulation was counterfeit. So, upon the advice of Hugh McColloch, the Secretary of Treasury at the time, Lincoln established a commission to put a stop to the rampant counterfeiting. On 14 April 1865, Lincoln created the United States Secret Service to carry out the recommendations of the commission. If 14 April 1865 seems like a familiar date to you, it is because on the evening of 14 April 1865, the same day that the Secret Service was established, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The Secret Service officially started work on 5 July 1865 and its mission was to suppress the counterfeiting of currency. By 1867, this mission had been expanded to include “detecting persons perpetrating frauds against the government”.
Although the assassination of Abraham Lincoln got congress thinking about adding presidential protection to the list of duties performed by the Secret Service, it was not until 1901, 36 years later, that this happened. In that time, two more presidents, James Garfield and William McKinley, were assassinated.
Since 1901, therefore, the Secret Service has had two areas of responsibility – its original area of preventing and investigation financial crimes and its second area of the protection of national leaders. It is in the area of financial crimes where you are likely to find forensic accounting experts active in the Secret Service. These forensic accountants may serve as Secret Service special agents or as unarmed professionals. In either case, the forensic accountant will provide valuable expertise in the investigation of financial crimes. After September 11, 2001, the Patriot Act expanded the Secret Service’s role in investigating cyber-crime. Also, in 2003, the Secret Service was transferred from the Treasury Department to the then newly established Department of Homeland Security, where it remains still.
Financial crime cases investigated by the Secret Service run the gamut from credit and debit card fraud, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) investigations (that’s the body that insures your bank deposits), some organized crimes and, of course, counterfeiting currency, Treasury bills and other government financial documents. Between 2003 and 2008, among its many successes, the Secret Service seized almost $300 million in counterfeit currency. The Secret Service has even set up shop to bring Nigerian confidence scammers to justice.
So, when you see those agents in their suits with their ear pieces and sunglasses, providing physical protection, remember that there is so much more going on with them. Their secret service extends to protecting our financial systems, in roles where you are very likely to find qualified financial forensics professionals at work.