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Computer crime: tips from police

Date: July 09, 2005
Source: Daily Southtown
By: Juliana Keeping

Detectives on guard for online scams

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

By Juliana Keeping
Special to the Daily SouthtownInternet scam artists today are a prevalent breed.

Two Orland Park police detectives are doing all they can to catch cyber hustlers.

But it's tough.

"Every day on the Internet, somebody's getting ripped off," said Detective Dennis Pratl, who has a specialty in Internet-related crime. "People have a false sense of security on the Internet, but doing business on the Internet is very risky."

In 2004, he and Detective Scott Sinko handled 50 cases involving Internet scams, most involving defrauded eBay victims as well as various e-mail schemes. Through police efforts, a few victims in those cases got their money back or the product they bought, Pratl said.

Orland Park police get tips from the National White Collar Crime Center, a federally funded nonprofit organization that collects victims' complaints of Internet crime and distributes the tips to appropriate law enforcement agencies.

International cases are nearly impossible for Orland Park police to resolve, Pratl said. Two Orland Park residents were fooled recently by an e-mail that promised they had won the Canadian lottery, he said.

"But in order to send you the money, you've got to send them the taxes, as insurance, in advance," Pratl said the e-mail stated.

The residents sent the money — $1,500 and $1,900 — to Montreal but never got the promised lottery treasure or a refund, Pratl said.

He said police can send a threatening e-mail in such cases, but they can't do much more when an Orland Park resident has sent money out of the country.

But the detectives have seen success with local cases, such as a man selling "designer" cologne on eBay for $50 that turned out to be of the knock-off variety.

"It turned out to be a college student selling the stuff from his dorm room," Pratl said.

Police contacted his parents, and the student returned the money to several victims and was not charged with a crime.

Victims of fraud are generally reluctant to pursue charges after they get their money back because they'd rather not spend a day in court, Pratl said.

When an Internet scam extends beyond Illinois' borders but still within the United States, Orland Park police typically will coordinate efforts with the municipality in which the perpetrator resides.

As an example, an e-mail informing a man that he was being investigated prompted him to send back $240 to an Orland Park resident who had bought a stereo system on eBay and never received it.

"Those are the ones you feel good about," Pratl said. "You feel sorry for anyone who gets ripped off. We all work hard for our money."

EBay has a fraud investigation team that assists law enforcement agencies all over the world, eBay spokesman Hani Durzy said.

"We provide information and train law enforcement on how to look for a cyber crime, we testify and help put people behind bars," Durzy said, noting arrests made in Romania as an example.

There are 50 million items for sale at any given time on eBay, Durzy said, and the rate of fraud is 1/100 of 1 percent of all listings.

Pratl warned of another Internet pitfall: Unsolicited e-mail can contain a "Trojan horse," which is spyware that logs key strokes to steal passwords and other personal information.

Pratl and Sinko have pursued such cases with PayPal, which also has a fraud investigation team. PayPal, owned by eBay, allows members to send and receive payments online.

"If (the e-mail) contains a key stroke logger, offenders can obtain all of your passwords, including those to your PayPal account. The person can change your password and re-route money to another account," Pratl said.

Pratl offered a few tips to avoid getting defrauded online:

A key to avoiding e-mail viruses, such as those that log key strokes to steal personal information, is spyware and anti-virus protection.

"You can never have too much protection on your computer. Don't just purchase it once, continue to update it," he said.

Pay attention to the age-old advice: "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."

Don't give personal or financial information to anyone online who you don't know, Pratl said, and resist any curiosity regarding an e-mail asking for such information. If you really need to know, call the bank from where the e-mail claims to originate and ask if they are soliciting or if there's a marketing blitz, he said.

More tips can be found at the Internet Fraud Complaint Center at The center is a partnership of the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center. Complaints about Internet fraud can be filed at that site.
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