Taking a byte out of crime
By Monica Deady
Source: Watertown TAB
Date: January 17, 2004
Watertown officer learns to track cyber criminals
With new technology constantly emerging and new crimes to go hand-in-hand with the progress, Watertown's police department is trying to put themselves right on the cutting edge.
Through the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council and the development of its Computer Crimes Unit, the 35 departments in the state who are part of the organization can take advantage of it.
Within the Watertown Police Department, Detective Dave Collins was selected to attend the three-month training course held at the Medford Police Department Academy.
"I think it's beneficial to the department that they have someone who is able to guide other officers in criminal investigations involving the Internet and other crimes," said Collins, who also is a juvenile detective, the department's photographer and part of the fire investigation team.
"It gives us a lot of credibility," Chief Edward Deveau said. "It can only help. We're certainly aware of all the issues that are out there regarding the Internet."
In the past, Deveau said Watertown would have referred cases involving the Internet to the Massachusetts State Police, but now they can handle them within the department.
"Being able to work with the cyber crime in NEMLEC, we can stay on top and follow through [with cases]," Deveau said.
In addition to Collins, another officer from Arlington took part in the program with him. It involved three 40-hour courses, as well as work on cases from various communities.
Collins said he learned methods for data recovery, Internet investigation and all forensic recovery of evidence for crimes from a computer while he worked out of Medford's police station for three months.
Trainees are taught things such as encoding encrypted documents on computers and making exact copies of a computer hard drive. In addition, Collins said he learned how to best work with Internet service providers on cases and on identifying IP addresses, which can identify servers hosting several computers in a town or business.
The cases he worked on, which he said he may see in Watertown, involved financial crime, drug transactions, lost or missing children, threats and child pornography. All of these cases had at least one component related to computer use.
For example, Collins said he has worked on a drug case where the computer was used to facilitate drug sales.
Internet crimes are "time-sensitive," Collins said, since Internet service providers may keep files for an automatic 24 or 48 hours before deleting them from their systems. If a crime, such as threats, is reported within that timeframe, police may be able to obtain the files before they are lost.
And working undercover is not just for officers on the street any longer. Following moral guidelines and, of course, laws, officers can go undercover online to investigate things such as scams or child pornography.
Undercover, Collins said he may engage in a conversation with an individual and then agree to trade pictures of child pornography, which is illegal. Instead of sending an illegal picture, however, Collins said he would send a picture of a horse and in return receive an illegal photograph.
By using the e-mail address and file information, Collins said he can determine the geographic location of the individual, and by subpoenaing the Internet company, he can possibly determine who sent the e-mail.
In Watertown, Collins said he works on cases mainly involving tracing and tracking financial crimes, but he has worked on cases involving child pornography.
In one case, Collins worked to help a Watertown resident who had $20,000 taken from his savings account and transferred by a third party to PayPal, a Web site that facilitates Internet commerce. By subpoenaing for an IP address, police traced the computer they thought was used to commit the crime to Watertown and confiscated it. However, they later discovered that the crime was committed by a fourth party who logged into someone's personal wireless network without permission and as a result, could not determine any real suspect.
Since finishing the training at the beginning of December, Collins said he has worked on four cases in Watertown, but said they come up "sporadically."
Collins also had some advice for residents who shop or browse online.
"I wouldn't utilize credit cards online unless you're working on a secured site," Collins recommended.
"I think you have to take the Internet for what it is," Collins said. He said that people using the Internet should be just as aware of the fact the Internet crimes do occur as they are aware of their surroundings outside.
He also stressed the importance of parents making sure their children are safe while online, since the person they are talking to could be someone other than who they say. He even suggested the computer be placed in a central location where parents can look over the shoulder of their children to see what they are doing.
The Police Department is also making it easier for parents to access protective software for their computers, through a link on their Web site, www.watertownpd.org, and Deveau said they are planning on having a seminar for parents of children within the school system about the Internet and ways parents can protect their children.
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