Local officials deal with growing threat of computer crimes
By Christy Futch
Date: October 13, 2003
Reports of computer crimes are on the rise nationwide, according to the Computer Crime Research Center's Web site, and northeast Louisiana is not escaping that trend.
Internet fraud complaints tripled from 2001 to 2002, the Cybercrime Law Report, available on the center's Web site, reported this year.
Helen King with the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Louisiana said her office takes complaints "at least weekly" from victims of identity theft - a crime that is often committed online. Though King did not have local statistics, she said the practice is not far from becoming an epidemic, prompting the BBB to offer a seminar on identity theft in the last few months. The rise has left local law enforcement agencies searching for ways to deal with perpetrators that could be next door or across the globe, Maj, Royce Toney with the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office said.
In August, Lt. Evelyn Robinson, then acting as the Monroe Police Department's interim police chief, called the first meeting of a proposed Computer Crimes Task Force to deal with the growing problem for citizens and law enforcement officers in Ouachita Parish. Toney said the new agency, including representatives from Monroe police, the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office and the 4th District Attorney's Office is still in its infancy.
When operational, Toney said, the task force would give local agencies the opportunity to pool resources and expertise in dealing with crimes from fraud to cyberstalking. Computer crimes are on the rise, Toney said, because they are easier to accomplish and more difficult to build cases against.
"There's no hard signature to compare," Toney said, "and as soon as fraudulently obtained merchandise is picked up, the suspect is long gone. It's easier to get on a computer keyboard than it is to take a handgun into the bank, and we have a harder time tracking it." But computer crimes are not completely anonymous, Toney said. Every computer transaction, from credit card applications to e-mails, leaves a computer-driven trail that police can follow.
Sheriff's Office investigators used that trail to trace an allegedly harassing e-mail back to a specific Internet Protocol address - a unique set of numbers used as an identifier for computers on the Internet - and made what Toney said was the first arrest in Ouachita Parish on an accusation of cyberstalking. The suspect was accused of sending harassing e-mails to a neighbor.
Though the Task Force is in the initial stages of development, Toney said, all area agencies would likely be keeping the cooperative group busy. "Computers are the crimes of the future," Toney said, "and we have the tools to catch them."
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