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Internet predators

By Royal M. Hopper
Date: December 15, 2003

Cybercrime Cyber Crime unit considers threat highest priority
A 27-year-old career criminal thought he was on his way to have sex with a 13 year-old girl he met on the Internet.
When he arrived, what he found was a member of the Texas Attorney General's Cyber Crime unit waiting for him with a badge and a pair of handcuffs.
"That was our first case. It's one of the things that keeps us coming back to the job day after day," said David Boatright, chief of the Criminal Investigation Division for the attorney general in a telephone interview

Boatwright, one of the men who helped found the Attorney General's Cyber Crime unit in May, said the unit has made 27 arrests in its first seven months by setting up stings to catch the grown men who stalk children on the Internet.

"It's never who you think," Boatright said. More than half of the people arrested by the unit are married professionals with children of their own living at home with them.

These people use the anonymity of the Internet to do things they would never do under the watchful eye of people they know, Boatright said. The 27-year-old was a career criminal with six felonies and eight misdemeanors under his belt, the classic profile of someone who might eventually graduate to more violent crimes. The kind Boatwright and his unit love to catch.

The stings start with one of the unit's detectives logging on to what is called a "chat room," someplace text messages can be sent to a common screen to hold an Internet conversation.

Most chat rooms have a program that displays a profile of the person chatting, including their name, sex, and age to those chatting in the room. The agents pretend to be 13 to 15-year-old girls or boys.

It is common that the first question asked by people in a chat room is the age and sex of the person they are talking to.

If a person sees the age of the chatter and immediately leaves or ends the conversation quickly, they are probably not a predator.

But if they ask to meet the 13-year-old in a private chat room or ask for personal information like names, phone numbers and addresses, it is possible a predator has taken the bait.

Sometimes it takes two days, sometimes two months, but eventually the stalker will ask to meet their "victim" and the trap is set. The agent will set the time and place, somewhere far from the stalker's home, to establish how far they are willing to go to.

If the agents have established that the man intends to have sex with the person they are meeting, the man is arrested as soon as they show up for the meeting.

The cops that work in these units are trained how to operate a sting and spend weeks getting to know the lingo and odd grammar of the Internet chat room, phrases like "LOL" which mean laughing on line. They learn how not to sound like cops on an Internet stakeout, which is exactly what they are, Boatright said.

Reaction of the people arrested range from surprise to anger that their "cloak of secrecy" has been penetrated, but as of yet, neither the predator nor the agent has been hurt making the arrest, he said.

Boatright said stings are an important part of the attorney general's computer crimes program because they are one of the few ways to stop crimes that begin on a medium that provides a built in disguise.

"These guys are using the anonymity of the Internet to stalk out children. We consider it to be among our highest priorities," Boatright said.

Original article

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