If Sherlock Holmes were alive today, would he be surfing the net? Would Hercule Poirot be using his “little grey cells” to analyse Facebook timelines seeking incriminating evidence and little “coincidences”? Would Miss Jane Marple be exercising her lateral thinking skills on coming up with obscure hashtags to search? And what would Barnaby do, if he couldn’t drive around the lush green landscapes of Midsomer, having near-misses on narrow forest tracks?
Well, the detective-fiction genre would be dead and buried given how easy some criminals seem to be making it for law-enforcement. No suspense, no clues, no high-speed chases.
What is it about social media that makes us behave in ways we would never behave normally? Why do we leave our brain next to the keyboard when we start typing? Maybe it is the sense of slightly-disconnected anonymity that we feel when we are online. Perhaps it is the sense of really large numbers – with X billion photographs uploaded on Facebook today, will they really find my photo? Or perhaps that false sense of “we’re all in it together” that comes from interacting with a keyboard instead of real human beings. But if there was a Darwinian award for criminals, these people would be up for awards.
Category One: Crimes committed online.
As well as the untold numbers of incidents of cyber-bullying (and in no way belittling the sometimes terrible effects of cyber-bullying), the infamous Nigerian scams which somehow still seem to lure in the unwitting, and various other scams, phishing sites etc, identity theft as revenge seems to be a growing pastime / crime.
Like the woman who impersonated her ex-boyfriend (a police officer) online and set up fake accounts in his name. She then posted allegedly altered photographs and disparaging comments such as “I’m a sick piece of scum with a gun” and “I’m an undercover narcotics detective that gets high every day,” on the site, purporting to be from him. What was she thinking?
And the Rhode Island prison guard who set up a fake Facebook profile in his boss’ name. A career-limiting move, one would have thought.
There are more, but the most amazing thing about these two particular instances is their proximity to law enforcement / corrections. Didn’t that give them any pause for thought? Both of these examples seemed to think that creating a fake online identity for someone else was not identity theft. I’m guessing that neither of these people had a criminal record previously. Think before you post – if it’s criminal in real life, it’s criminal online as well.
Category Two: Crimes announced and promoted online.
This bank robber announced his intention to rob a bank in advance online, posted photographs of himself online with the loot, and DURING the robbery he changed his Facebook name to Willie Sutton Jnr, referencing a 1930s bank robber. Well, at least he was a little creative and knew his history….
Houston police arrested three men and a woman after they bragged on facebook about their $62,000 heist. Such classy postings as: “WOKE UP DIS MORNING! BUST DOWN A SWISHA!!! LOOK IN THE MIRROR LIKE I’M ONE RICH … WIPE MY TEETH WITH HUNDREDS WIPE MY *** WITH DIS 50s :$:$:$:$:$:$.” and “IM RICH *****” on their own and each others’ pages. I won’t even pretend to understand some of that – but I do understand the $$$ bits! They also announced their intention to “get $$$” a few days before the heist.
And the FBI arrested Anthony Wilson when he posted photographs of himself online wearing the same distinctive clothes he wore in a bank robbery. He thoughtfully matched his CCTV photos.
And then there are the many examples of illegal drag racing filmed by the participants and uploaded….and the case of fugitive Chris Crego who skipped interstate but helpfully posted his whereabouts online at Facebook AND MySpace – right down to his place and hours of employment.
Category Three: I am so addicted to social media that I need to update my profile WHILE I am committing the crime.
In addition to the example of the Willie Sutton Jnr robber above, Johnathon G Parker attained notoriety (and arrest) by leaving his Facebook page open on his victim’s computer during a house break-and-enter. Now anyone who watches NCIS knows that you can trace back what sites a computer has been on – but leaving it on your Facebook account is REALLY helpful.
The list goes on but I won’t bore you, it is more of the same. I suspect Sherlock Holmes would be doing a face-palm right now. I know I am.
So surprise, surprise, law-enforcement are using social media as part of their investigative tools, not only to identify the perpetrators, but also to gather evidence. As well as profiling suspects and putting out bulletins of wanted fugitives, traffic hazards and the like, they are increasingly scanning social media for potential crimes and hazards. Police officers are engaged in cyber-undercover operations luring out paedophiles.
And really, we just hope the crims keep making it this easy.