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Technology opens new doors for new crimes

April 16, 2012
By Kevin Pierson - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

It wasn't that many years ago, that somebody in the Mid-Ohio Valley being robbed by somebody in Europe was only possible if they actually went on a trip to Europe.

In 2012, that's no longer the case.

Technological advances from smart phones and iPads to the Internet have put everyday conveniences at the fingertips, but they've also opened an entire new realm for the criminal mind.

"The Internet has developed a whole new variety of crimes," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

Now, it's entirely possible for a criminal more than 1,000 miles away from the victim to steal from them, and it might not take that much effort.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were 7,304 Internet-based crimes committed in Ohio in 2010, the most recent data available.

Fact Box

Types of technological crimes

Telemarketing fraud.

Nigerian letter or "419" fraud.

Identity theft.

Credit card fraud.

Counterfeit prescription drugs.

Ponzi schemes.

Investment schemes.

Use of minors in sexually oriented material.

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Q&A: Veteran officer has seen many changes during long career

Washington County Sheriff Sgt. Det. Scott Parks has seen a lot of change to the world of crime during his career in law enforcement.

Certified through the Department of Homeland Security, Parks, a 17-year veteran, now handles criminal investigations for the Washington County Sheriff's Office regarding technological crimes including but not limited to the Internet and cell phones.

Q: What are the biggest changes to crimes with so much technology available?

A: Sometimes the biggest is in the way it's solved. We get a lot of information through the back door. People are using more devices as well. They are using technology to commit a lot of computer crimes. Also, it's extending the reach of people's abilities. In the 70s, you didn't have to worry about somebody in Eastern Europe robbing you.

Q: What guidelines are there for the public?

A: Never, ever, ever, ever wire money to somebody you don't know. The reason they want you to do that is it's irreversible, and sometimes you don't even need an ID to pick the money up. If you don't wire somebody money, 95 percent of these scams won't affect you.

Rule No. 2 is common sense. How many lotteries have you won you didn't buy a ticket to?

Q: Computers have changed the type of crime, with some criminals using Facebook and such to meet and pick up minors. How do you fight something like that?

A: That is another direction we are moving. We're not focused on bringing those people into our county (to meet police). We don't want to bring them in. We want to get the ones that are here out.

Before, if we had a potential child pornography case we would execute a search warrant and get their computer and send it to BCI. Then we had to wait sometimes six months to see if there's anything there. A couple years ago the Sheriff (Larry Mincks) said we were not going to have that six to eight month wait and leave these guys on the street. We are able to do that all in-house. Our turn around time in a computer case has went from six to eight months to if we really need it, two to three days.

Q: What about cell phones? How can they be misused for crimes and such, especially among teenagers?

A: We do handle a lot of sexting cases. You think you're sending one of these pictures to a boyfriend or girlfriend, but once they get them they send them to their friends, and then they send them to their friends. You shouldn't send any picture to anybody you wouldn't be willing to post on a billboard for everybody to see, because it's going to get out.

Q: Overall, how much has technology changed the criminal world?

A: The size of technology is really incredible. One gigabyte of information will hold 524,000 documents, pages of documents, which is basically a pickup truck bed full of paperwork. They say every 18 months our computer technology doubles itself. Every 18 months it's doubling.

Kevin Pierson conducted this interview.

Sgt. Det. Scott Parks

Family: Married, two children.

Experience: 17 years with the Washington County Sheriff's Office

Background: OPATA certification, instructor at Washington State Community College in the Police Academy Program.

Occupation: Computer forensics officer with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

Those crimes resulted in a reported loss of $10,163,291.40 according to the FBI, with the biggest crime reported being non-delivery of merchandise or payment.

"There are more scams out there involving computers than there are stars in the sky," said Washington County Sheriff's Sgt. Det. Scott Parks.

Of those Internet-based crimes committed in Ohio, only 2.3 percent of the perpetrators resided in Ohio, the FBI said.

With so many crimes committed using computers and the Internet, the Washington County Sheriff's Office now has software available that can image hard drives. Other software can search a computer and extract images or take images from cell phones.

The software is also highly selective, as it can sort through a computer that has 15 pictures of Mickey Mouse, 15 photos of Donald Duck, and then find the two nude photos of an 11-year-old, Mincks said as an example.

Use of children in sexually oriented material or engaging in sexual conduct with minors has become one of the crimes seen most with the Marietta Police Department.

"I think our biggest concern, and we deal with it here quite a bit, is child predators," said Marietta Police patrolman Rhett Walters.

"You lose your money, you can make more money. A child gets touched by this forever," Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite said.

Social networking websites like Facebook and My Space have given criminals easier access to potential victims, Walters noted, and the Internet has expanded the reach of the criminal mind.

"It is the information highway. It works for the good, and it also works for the bad. A lot of criminals use that to the best of their abilities," Walters said.

Availability of technology also has an impact on things such as the manufacture of drugs like methamphetamine. Through the Internet, manufacturers can order the chemicals and components from different businesses, thereby reducing suspicion and making it difficult to track.

Still, the sheriff's office finds them, Parks noted.

"We can obtain IPs (internet protocols). Things are tracked through IPs. It'll give you the subscriber and where it came from," he explained.

Another problem that's recently expanded into the realm of technology and cyberspace is bullying, which used to be limited to the playground at school, Waite noted.

Combating criminals with technology is always a challenge, as law enforcement is constantly playing catchup. There simply isn't the money in the budget for new, high-priced, high-tech gadgets, Waite noted.

"They change their tactic, we adjust to it," Parks said.

Criminals, however, have no such problem and are always looking for the next way they can capitalize on technology to commit a crime, Walters said.

"Use your best imagination. What you think isn't possible, I guarantee you it will be made possible, probably by the criminal mind first," Walters said.



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