California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a new state e-crime unit designed to investigate and prosecute multijurisdictional cybercrimes. Prior to formation of the unit, according to Harris, many e-crimes in the state went unprosecuted because the crimes crossed jurisdictional lines and required resources that many counties did not possess.
Harris made the announcement at a press conference in Sacramento on Tuesday, Dec. 13. With the announcement, California joins Texas and Louisiana as one of only three states with statewide cybercrime units. California will have the largest department and greatest number of personnel charged with prosecuting e-crimes. Both Texas and Louisiana focus on Internet child pornography and have few personnel dedicated to e-crime investigation and prosecution.
California’s 20-person unit will investigate e-crimes including identity theft, computer and network hacking, intellectual property crimes (counterfeited and pirated sales of copyrighted and protected items), Internet fraud, theft of computer components and technology services, and Internet child exploitation.
Idyllwild is no stranger to identify theft. Over a three-month period in late 2010, 20 or more local residents were hit by credit card fraud that likely originated with credit card skimming that allowed perpetrators to clone residents’ credit cards. The fraud reported to the Town Crier totaled over $22,000. There may have been more.
Although Riverside County began the investigation of the Idyllwild cases, Los Angeles/Long Beach took over because of greater investigative and prosecutorial resources. Los Angeles County, along with Orange County and the city of Long Beach has the greatest number of identify theft crimes in the state. In her Dec. 13 announcement, Attorney General Harris specifically cited local jurisdictions’ declining to or inability to prosecute these kinds of crimes due “to technical or resource issues” as one of the reasons for forming the statewide unit. “The unique aspect of technology is that it knows no jurisdictional boundary,” said Harris in her announcement. “We want to ensure Internet crimes don’t drop off simply because it wasn’t clear for local law enforcement, or the consumer, where to go because an incident occurred in the [Internet] cloud.”
The new unit provides investigative and prosecutorial support to five California regional high-tech task forces funded through an earmarked high-tech trust fund. Riverside County is part of the Southern California High-Tech Task Force. In an important new feature, the statewide e-crime unit also provides coordination for out-of-state technology crime investigation requests. Tendrils of the Idyllwild investigation reached both out-of-state and out-of-the-country, according to reports furnished the Town Crier.
Harris announced one of the tasks delegated to the new unit would be to provide directions, advice and resources to help state consumers avoid identity theft, and to provide guidelines for reporting cyber fraud. Those resources are available at www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft.
Recent tips to consumers from the new e-crime unit include: obtain antivirus and anti-spyware software for your computer; use credit cards rather than debit cards (“A stolen debit card gives an identify thief a direct line to your bank account, whereas credit cards offer added protection from fraudulent transactions,” noted an AG press release.); make online purchases only through websites that offer secure connections (check the padlock icon which indicates heightened SSL – Secure Socket Layer – security); don’t post personal information online; strengthen all passwords and PINs. Use a combination of numbers, letters and symbols, and vary passwords from account to account; shop at trusted websites; do not give out your social security number to make online purchases.
If the victim of ID theft, Harris’ office advises: report theft to major credit bureaus; file police report; contact all creditors, close compromised accounts and ask that closed accounts be processed as “closed at consumer’s request.” Avoid having a “lost or stolen” credit card reference since this could be blamed on you; obtain and monitor credit reports regularly; contest bills resulting from identity theft; if a loan, credit or utility service account has been opened fraudulently in your name, obtain a copy of the application used to open the account and records of all transactions; contest false civil and criminal judgments against you that are the result of identity theft.