Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory: Tips from the public have helped the FBI bring criminals to justice, find missing persons, and give closure to victims.
Maybe you’ve spotted a highway billboard seeking information about a suspected criminal, seen a post on social media asking for tips about a missing child, or caught a podcast interview with one of our special agents. Whatever the case, it’s likely you’ve seen or heard the FBI ask for the public’s help.
But what happens when you realize that a wanted subject is someone you know? Or that you have information that might help the Bureau solve—or prevent—a crime?
On this episode of Inside the FBI, we’ll break down what kinds of things you should—and shouldn’t—report to the Bureau, how you can submit a tip, and what happens once you do.
I’m Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory, and this is Inside the FBI.
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To talk tips, we first need to take a trip to the mountains of West Virginia, where the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division—or CJIS—is based. CJIS provides a range of state-of-the-art tools and services to law enforcement, national security and intelligence community partners, as well as the general public.
Deep inside this data hub lives the National Threat Operations Center (or NTOC). As Sid Patel, the head of CJIS’ National Threat Operations Section, explains it...
Sid Patel: We are basically the central intake system for processing all the tips and threats coming into the FBI.
Oprihory: You can reach this FBI nerve center by phone at 1-800-CALL-FBI or online by visiting tips.fbi.gov.
Regardless of how you contact the Bureau, once you do, NTOC’s job is to learn more about your tip—whether it’s because you have information about a federal crime, a fugitive from justice, or potential terrorism—and to route the information to the appropriate FBI field office.
Patel: We get about 4,500 tips a day... and those calls spike based on what we see in the news.
Oprihory: So, how does NTOC handle that high volume of tips? The short answer is that NTOC has a comprehensive strategy.
When threat intake examiners receive a call, Patel says, their top priority is figuring out what it’s about.
People who need to report a situation that involves an immediate threat to life, serious bodily injury, or significant violent action should contact 911. However, if NTOC believes the information provided by a tipster involves these situations, NTOC will send that tip to the appropriate FBI field office and/or state fusion center for action. For example, a tip involving someone threatening to conduct a mass shooting.
All that being said, if you or a loved one is ever facing a mental health crisis, Patel suggests reaching out to the appropriate experts directly.
Patel: If this is something of mental health or you're having tendencies of suicide or different types of addiction where you need help, call 988.
Oprihory: But what if a call doesn’t involve an emergency or threat to life? NTOC’s next step becomes figuring out whether the alleged crime being reported falls under the FBI’s jurisdiction.
If the tip involves a threat to national security or a federal crime, it’s something the FBI will pursue.
Patel: We handle the federal law.
We have a wide array of federal statutes, from counterterrorism, counterintelligence, cybercrimes, various types of fraud like romance and elder fraud. We have a variety of statutes that you can find on the internet. Those are the types of crimes that we want to hear about. Those are the violations that we work.
Oprihory: And if it’s not something the FBI investigates, NTOC can pass along the tip to our partners so that they can take any investigation or response from there.
Patel: We will often receive tips that are better suited for our partnerships, whether it be federal, state, or other local partners that we have, and we'll take that information, we'll pass it to them for them to work it appropriately.
Oprihory: When in doubt, though, NTOC operators can help you figure out if a tip is right for the FBI.
Patel: If you don't know where to go, if you don't know the right place to contact, we're always here to help, and we'll get it to the right place.
Oprihory: When it comes to submitting a tip, Patel recommends communicating clearly and concisely, and keeping your tips honest, accurate, and thorough. If you’re submitting a tip online, he says…
Patel: I think it's important to have all the facts in there. Any information you do give us, whether it be names, phone numbers, specific details of the threat, it all helps us.
We want to get a good understanding of the different Ws: what happened, why you think it may have happened, where, when.
Oprihory: Those specifics, he says, help the FBI appropriately route and follow up on tips, as well as open investigations, if appropriate.
Any and all details you can provide are important. For example, if your tip mentions a video, include timestamps for the parts of the video you think the FBI needs to see.
Patel: It helps us pinpoint exactly where we should be looking.
Oprihory: On a similar note, while submitting a tip anonymously won’t make the Bureau take it any less seriously, including your name and contact details can help investigators reach back out to you if any follow-up questions arise.
Patel: We treat all tips the same. We look for the information in there, we do some of our own diligence and rigor to determine the type of tip and where it should go and the type of threats that are being reported, but whether anonymous or not, we treat them all the same. We often prefer to receive information from the individual so that we can call them back and ask additional questions that may come from the tip, but it's up to you whether you want to provide that or not.
Oprihory: On the other hand, Patel says, the FBI may not need to reach out again after receiving your tip—but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.
Patel: Our protocol is, as an intake center, to evaluate the tip, get all the information we need, and then pass it to the field office. It's upon the field office and the agents working those tips to determine how they want to move forward. They often work closely with the U.S. attorney's office to determine the ... federal nexus and whether a case will be opened and how they're going to proceed with the investigation.
So, often, we do not call back the individuals that have provided the tip, but there are occasions that we do, which usually come from the agents in the field, to be able to develop further leads and learn more about the actual tip itself.
Oprihory: And if you’re still on the fence about reaching out to the FBI, it’s important to know that these tips are powerful.
According to the FBI’s National Threat Operations Section—which houses NTOC—one tip helped the FBI and our partners track down an individual who’d tried to take their own life via a drug overdose.
Another tip, this time from a female who was being sex trafficked, empowered the Bureau and our partners to collaborate to save her and eventually arrest her trafficker. The woman, who’d been held against her will, managed to call the FBI while her trafficker was asleep.
And a third tip led to the successful apprehension of FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Octaviano Juarez-Corro. Juarez-Corro, who allegedly killed two people and injured three others when he fired multiple shots into a crowded Wisconsin park in May 2006, was apprehended by our international partners in Zapopan, Guadalajara, Mexico, in February 2022.
In short, Patel says...
Patel: If you see something, say something. We've been preaching that for many, many years now. That's how we get our information, that's how we thwart terrorist attacks, that's how we solve crimes. So, if you have any doubt, give us a call. We'd love to hear from you.
Oprihory: To submit a tip to the FBI, dial 1-800-CALL-FBI—that’s 1-800-225-5324—or visit tips.fbi.gov. You can share information with us anonymously.
And to learn more about other ways to reach out to Bureau—whether it’s to report a crime, speak with your local field office, or something else entirely—visit fbi.gov/contact.
This has been another episode of Inside the FBI.
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I’m Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks for tuning in.