Computer Crime Research Center


Computer crime: police against online criminals

Date: April 05, 2006

When Belmont police received a tip last month about a San Carlos man trying to pick up teenage girls on the community Web site Craigslist they sprang into action, set up a sting operation and arrested the man.

It’s not always that easy to catch online criminals, especially when police officers are more accustomed to patrolling local streets than the information superhighway. Just as undercover agents must learn the part for any street sting, police officers are discovering they must learn the language of online criminals and how to navigate the wild world of potentially criminal Web sites.

“In the last year or so we’ve been making more of an effort when it comes to our attention to Web sites like that. We need to learn how to make ourselves comfortable in that arena,” said Belmont police Lt. Dan DeSmidt.

Just like any neighborhood, the arena of community Web sites host an array of good and bad. Officials at Craigslist defend their growing Web site and said they’re committed to helping law enforcement when necessary.

Craigslist attracts four billion page views a month, making it the seventh largest Internet site in terms of activity. It receives more than eight million classified ads per month, making it the overall leading classified ad service. The amount of illegal activity has grown, but remains small in relation to the total size of the Web site, said Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster.

“We don’t like there to be any illegal activity on the site. Fortunately, we have consistently seen over the years that the vast majority of Craigslist users are well-intentioned and law-abiding, and that the tiny percentage of illegal activity on the site is not tolerated by our many

millions of sharp-eyed users, who flag and/or report it quickly — far more effectively than any centralized system that has ever been developed,” Buckmaster said via e-mail.
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