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The Perfect Storm: Cyberspace Criminality
By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist
Published: 05/30/2011

Perfect storm Recently Match.com made headlines in a bad way. It became the subject of a lawsuit for not properly screening sex offenders from its dating service. You guessed it. One sex offender hooked up online with a female and met and raped her in the real world. Match.com has promised to ratchet up its screening protocols. This past week Connecticut moved legislation forward that would require Internet dating sites which charge fees to provide customers safety tips and advice to make both online and offline dating safer. If enacted Connecticut will join New York and New Jersey who have passed similar legislation.

Within the last week Craigslist has again made the news as a virtual hunting grounds for offenders. Fours suspects (two reportedly gang members) posed as sellers on Craigslist and robbed an 18-year old and his girlfriend and killed the man when he attempted to follow them. We also have an apparent serial killer dubbed the “Craigslist Ripper“, using the service to find victims and dumping the bodies in a secluded section of Long Island beach over the past several months. The blog has discussed previously the issues regarding sex offenders on social networking sites, notablly Facebook. However, make no mistake not all the victimization occurring online is due to sex offenders. An article in the Wall Street Journal provided information on a 45 year old senior manager who was scammed out of $5,000 by a “female” he meet on eHarmony.

Why are these acts occurring online in apparent increasing frequency? Well part of it may be the media just highlighting these serious online crimes, which makes it seem like there is more of them. However, the truth is more and more of the public is turning to the Internet for social interaction. The more interaction online the more victims come into contact with motivated offenders. This is exactly what I believe Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson were suggesting with their Routine Activities Theory. Specifically, a crime occurs when the following three factors converge in time and space:
  1. A motivated offender,
  2. A suitable target and
  3. The absence of a capable guardian.

I think the argument can be made that there really is an “absence of a capable guardian” online, so in a real sense we are seeing a perfect storm of criminality in cyberspace.

We also can’t ignore that the computer and the Internet are excellent tools for criminal behavior. The Internet provides offenders with a sense of anonymity. They can communicate with whomever they want with little fear that someone will discover or identify them. Additionally, they can tailor their appearance to whatever is needed to get at their victim. They can be rich, educated, someone from the opposite sex, single, more attractive, less overweight, or similar in age to the victim, etc. These dating sites also are in many respects a sexual predators ’ preference catalog. Most group individuals by age, weight, hair and eye color, height, location, etc. I have even seen some sites provide shoe sizes. What more would a crazed sexual predator want?

Additionally, they can literally groom multiple victims not only over an extended period of time but simultaneously. Such activity would prove harder and riskier to accomplish in the real world. Finally, particularly, with the scams and frauds, offenders oftentimes are not even in the same jurisdiction or country of the victim. This makes investigation and prosecution that much harder and dare I say the offenders know it.

So what can be done about this? Well for starters we need more Internet safety presentations, starting at a young age and going all the way up to the nursing homes. These presentations have to stress that just because someone types it on a screen or shows you a picture doesn’t really make is so. Additionally, such presentations should stress the appropriate personal details to share and under what circumstances.

The private sector in cyberspace has also got to step up to plate. In the real world no business would last long that did not provide proper lighting in the customer parking lots, routine mall security, etc. The private sector, particularly those involved in social/dating sites, have got to come up with techniques for providing those same rudimentary security measures that we all expect in the real world. If they refuse to do so their sites may become as popular as a store with no night lighting located in a high crime area.

Finally, law enforcement has got to be more involved in the online community and not just retroactively but proactively. This is going to be hard with the current budgetary climate. But if it doesn’t happen the Old West will seem like a very mild metaphor for describing the lawlessness of 21st Century cyberspace.

For community corrections officers we must be aware what our offenders are doing online, particularly if their crimes were predatory in nature. I can see no earthly reason why a supervised sex offender should be given free rein to frequent whatever social networking he or she chooses. Even the sites which only allow adults can be a problem for sex offenders who victimize children. Most ask if the person has children. How hard would it be for a pedophile to locate a single lonely mother with minor children to victimize? Offenders who are con artists also pose a risk in this environment where victims are so trusting. Ask questions about what your offenders are doing online before you get that call from the police department about them.

Many of these issues I am sure are going to be discussed at HTCIA’s 2011 Annual Training Conference and Expo. The HTCIA is celebrating 25 years as a participant and leader in the High Technology world this year. Tell Wojo, Jimmie, Duncan, and Tom I sent you. Now where is that cigar I had? Be safe out there.

Visit "The Three C's (Computers, Crime & Corrections)" blog by Art Bowker

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  1. valkry on 06/01/2011:

    I read this article,and alot of thought has been put into the current affairs of website crimes. Crimes on the internet has been open space for years. However; We have to start with the biggest crimes first. 1. The computer manufacturers. They install hardware with the purchase, and have access to your computer from the beginning, forcing you to purchase virus hardware. Repeatedly!! I am a victim of this from Dell Computers. 2. Inter-net companies,you are allowed to create your own rooms, blogs, ect... without verification from the provider. 3. Criminals;Employment scams where they get information, sales promotion gimmicks, and of course dating chats. Where if you sign up, they already have your information. 4. cameras, some are built already into the system, which they can monitor you without you knowing. 5.people do online banking, credit card purchases ect.. However, sales and marketers share those files and give them to random"other marketers" and this is legal. 6. Consumers "us" go into these rooms, taking risk in so many areas.I do not go in chatrooms, If I do not know you personally you are not on my list. I learned not to do anymore survays, " the hard way" I especially am hard on my son who buys games on the internet. World of Warcraft where they have online access to anyone who is playing the game. Prime area for Pedifles. The biggest problem is law-enforcement cannot handle the issues. FBI is over booked on cases and cannot handle the work load now. This is now world wide issues on scams. The only way to stop them,is quit internet until certain proticals are met. This would have to start with United Nations because it is world wide. But there is somethings we can outlaw here. Computer manufactors,providers,stop marketers,and stop dating sites. If you do not know who you are meeting you put yourself at risk and in harms way. Especially single females and children. If it sounds to good to be true, it is not good! People have to make choices using common sense too! working with internet fraud inmates, they told me how simple it was to get information off the net of anyone they targeted including officers that they have issues with. They gather all your information and sell it to the more dangerous inmates. This is very dangerous especially level five inmates. We need to instill policies everyday to officers, about conduct and interactions with inmates. Personal conduct with other officers. Those officers who do background checks, I know a person who used a fake name and was allowed to see a level 5 inmate. This was alarming to me. I am retired now, but I still observe security protical, I check windows, doors,have a dog, I watch the area around me,and stay on orange. With the internet, I only speak with people I know personally. and quit purchasing anything on the internet. The last wake up call is all the new phones that have internet access, which allows them to get everyones information. What is more Facebook offers our names and photos. I do not put my photo, and I use a fake name. The only ones who have access are people I know. But it all starts from the manufacturer with crimes of getting all your access. I purchased my pc through DOC, and Dell has all my information and now I am battling them for blocks they put on my pc, forcing me to pay more money for protection I did not purchase, for the last two months my bank account was closed and had to be reopened. It starts there and works all the way done to the preditors. that is my take on this issue, we are already vullnerable and open to crimes.Starting with legitimate companies, phone, internet,and manufacturers.Not to mention rapist, pedifles, white slavers ect...

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