Lawmen learn about cybercrime

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 22, 2001

FERRIDAY, La. – If you think rural areas like Concordia Parish are exempt from high-tech crimes involving computers, think again.

Three or four cybercrimes are reported each month in Concordia Parish, said Investigator Jimmy Darden of the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office. Most involve stolen credit card numbers or items ordered and sent to third-party addresses.

&uot;In one case, a local attorney had drafts taken from his bank account,&uot;&160;Darden said. And to solve such cases, he said, officers must trace a long and complicated trail of electronic transactions.

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With that in mind, law enforcement officers gathered Thursday at the Concordia Parish Correctional Facility to learn more about how people use computers to commit high-tech crimes – and how they can be caught.

For three hours James L. Piker, assistant attorney general in charge of a new statewide task force on cybercrime, briefed attendees on the types of crimes committed with computers and the challenges involved in solving such crimes.

The Louisiana Department of Justice’s High Technology Crime Unit was established Jan. 1. By Jan. 31, it already had a backlog of cases to investigate, Piker said.

Seventy percent of the cases the unit investigates involve child pornography or pedophiles – &uot;travelers,&uot; in high-tech slang – who use the Internet to locate victims.

Other cybercrimes run the gamut from using stolen credit card numbers, committing fraud and making drafts from others’ bank accounts to laundering drug money, stalking and conspiring to commit murder.

And cybercrime cases can be more difficult, said Piker, due to:

— The scale of such crimes. In a recent case, a virus distributed by a youth in the Philippines did $8 billion worth of damage worldwide.

— The lack of boundaries. Cybercrime can affect large areas and multiple law enforcement jurisdictions, making cooperation among agencies essential.

&uot;The world of cybercrime is so fast-moving that there is no time for jurisdictional feuds,&uot; Piker said.

— The need to stay technologically proficient — because criminals also stay abreast of the latest technology.

For example, a portable device can easily be used to swipe someone’s credit card and download its information. In one case, credit card information was transmitted by computer from the United States and used by a criminal in Europe to make purchases within 20 minutes.

Attendees were shown pictures of hard drives and other high-tech evidence so they can be more easily identified at crime scenes. They were also briefed on laws governing the ways such evidence can be seized and searched.

&uot;Everybody in law enforcement is going to have to deal with (cybercrime) eventually,&uot;&160;Piker said. &uot;You can’t bury your head in the sand.&uot;

In addition to law enforcement officials, district attorney’s officials and representatives of the banking and computer industries attended the seminar. And for many, the most eye-opening thing about the lecture was the sheer scope of cybercrime.

&uot;I knew it was out there, but it doesn’t really hit home until you attend something like this,&uot; said Tracie Gray, an operations assistant for Concordia Bank.

&uot;And like most white-collar crimes, it can be difficult to investigate,&uot; said Paul Scott, district director for the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office. &uot;There are so many obstructions to getting warrants, for example.&uot;

Capt. George Rutherford, liaison officer for the Vidalia Police Department, said he knew such crimes were complicated, &uot;but I didn’t know they were this complicated.&uot;

What would Rutherford tell someone who believes cybercrime cannot happen in such a rural area?

&uot;Bull,&uot; he said. &uot;It can happen anywhere with a phone line.&uot;