Cybercrime: An invisible opponent

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 1, 2001

FERRIDAY, La. – Ferriday attorney Lloyd Love’s introduction to the world of cybercrime happened six months ago, as he was reviewing what should have been routine bank statements.

&uot;There were three drafts authorized from my (bank) account that I&160;didn’t know anything about,&uot; Love said. &uot;It had been going on for three months before I&160;discovered it.&uot;

The employee who allegedly stole the money using online bank drafts was fired, and charges were filed against her. Even so, Love only got back $200 of the $300 that was missing.

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And such cases are becoming all too common in the Miss-Lou. No national or state agency keeps track of the number of computer crime, or &uot;cybercrime,&uot;&160;cases yet. But at least three cases a month are being reported per month – up from nearly none just six months ago, according to local law enforcement.

So state agencies and local law enforcement are teaming up to educate themselves and the public on what can be done to fight what some officials believe is the growing trend of cybercrime.

Cybercrime is defined as any type of crime committed with the use of a computer.

That can include anything from transmitting child pornography, luring a child for illicit purposes, threatening someone via e-mail, making unauthorized credit card purchases or bank drafts via the Internet and &uot;hacking&uot; a business’s computer system.

And other types of crimes can be planned via e-mail, too. &uot;We had one case where two kids were communicating about murdering a girl at a church function,&uot; said James Piker, a Louisiana assistant attorney general in charge of that state’s cybercrime task force.

Of the 45 cases the Louisiana task force has investigated since it was established in January, 70 percent have involved child pornography or the luring of children. Of the rest, 15 percent have involved crimes against people, such as threats, and 15 percent involve financial fraud.

Cases of identity theft, such as people buying items online with someone else’s credit card number, account for the vast majority of cases in the Miss-Lou, said local law enforcement officials.

No cases of child pornography being transmitted over the Internet or children being lured via e-mail or Internet chat rooms to other locations for sex have been reported in the Miss-Lou so far, they said.

But the attorney general’s offices of Mississippi and Louisiana are betting those numbers will increase – so they are taking steps now, along with other agencies, to head off the problem.

Mississippi’s Internet Task Force was formed in November. It includes members from the Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Secret Service, the Highway Patrol, the State Crime Lab, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Mississippi Prosecutor’s Association.

&uot;We’re working in three areas: prosecution, investigation and education,&uot; said Janet Vaughan, a cybercrime staffer with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

&uot;For example, in the fall we’re going to talk at schools&uot; about the dangers of the Internet, Vaughan said.

Both states’ attorney general’s offices also sponsor seminars for law enforcement agencies and others impacted by cybercrime, such as business owners.

One recent seminar in Concordia Parish attracted more than 30 law enforcement officers and business representatives.

There, Piker and two of his assistants briefed those attending the meeting on how cybercrimes are committed, what evidence to look for at a computer crime scene and laws that govern computer searches and seizures.

Piker encouraged attendees to call his office any time they need help in investigating a case – and Jimmy Darden, an investigator with the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office, plans to take him up on the offer.

&uot;As these criminals get better and better, we have to use those types of resources,&uot; Darden said.

In mid-June, the Natchez Police Department sent two investigators to similar computer crime workshops in Hattiesburg and Jackson.

&uot;It’s a new, up-and-coming area (of crime),&uot; said Huff, also a member of a statewide committee working to produce educational materials about the dangers of the Internet.

&uot;And the best thing we can do to fight it, in addition to networking with other agencies, is to stay current in our knowledge,&uot; Huff said.

&uot;I don’t know that we’ll have be able to put someone on (investigating) this type of crime full time until the number of complaints rises,&uot;&160;Darden said. &uot;So the best thing we can do is to do overall training for all our people.&uot;

And local agencies seem to be taking the right approach to cybercrime, according to Piker.

&uot;They need to take personnel who are interested in technology crime and seek as much free training as they can get,&uot; Piker said. &uot;The next best thing they can do is networking – knowing who to call in case they don’t know something.&uot;

Although personnel in Piker’s office have gotten $16,000 worth of training in computer crime this year, he said his department would still use more resources. That includes more staff – because so far, the office still has a backlog of 37 computers to investigate.