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What is the Secret Service?

Many people think the U.S. Secret Service exists solely to protect the President of the United States, but that important task is just one of the expected functions of a Secret Service agent.

The Secret Service’s primary responsibility is to protect the country’s financial systems. The agency was formed in 1865 when counterfeiting was rampant. Combating counterfeiters, credit card fraud, bank fraud and computer fraud are all top priorities for the agency.

Still, the most well-known and visible role of special agents employed by the Secret Service is to protect the president, particularly during public appearances or when traveling. Agents also investigate threats made against the president, vice president and other high-ranking government officials.

Secret Service agents are willing to put their lives in jeopardy to ensure no harm comes to those under their protection which can include presidential candidates and visiting foreign officials. Some Secret Service agents are assigned to the Uniformed Division, which guards the White House, the vice president’s home on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory and certain embassies.

For years, this element of the Secret Service has captivated the public. Hollywood movies have portrayed Secret Service agents standing in the line of fire to protect the president and others. Fortunately, very few agents have actually been wounded in the course of duty.

In 1950, an agent was shot and killed during a failed attempt to assassinate President Harry Truman. In 1981, an agent was wounded but recovered following a failed assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

The agency spends considerable time before public appearances by the president and vice president assessing the areas where they will appear for any vulnerabilities that might allow someone to stage an attack. This preparation ensures that the agents can perform their jobs as safely and successfully as possible.

Secret Service Criminal Investigations

Beyond the high profile duties of presidential protection, Secret Service agents are responsible for investigating a range of financial crimes.

Counterfeiting is a major area of the agency’s responsibility and isn’t limited to fake U.S. currency. Agents investigate counterfeiting of U.S. coins, foreign currency in the U.S., Treasury checks and postage stamps.

Beyond bogus money, the Secret Service also investigates crimes such as identity theft, check and bank fraud, money laundering, credit card skimming, forgery and computer fraud.

In 2001, the Secret Service formed a country-wide network of task forces to link federal, state and local agencies as well as prosecutors and private companies to investigate financial crimes.

How to Become an Agent

Those interested in becoming a member of the U.S. Secret Service need a four-year college degree coupled with previous law enforcement experience. They must be in tip-top physical shape and not have a criminal history. Becoming a Secret Service agent is considered one of the most competitive jobs an individual can apply for.

Interested applicants can find job openings posted on USAJobs.gov, the federal government’s official job site. Applications can be submitted electronically and eligible candidates will be reviewed and ranked by selecting officials.

Once a tentative job offer is made, candidates must undergo a rigorous background review as well as possibly a medical examination and polygraph test. All eligible candidates must be U.S. citizens and willing to undergo a drug screen prior to employment. Secret Service agents are required to hold a Top Secret security status.

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