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Consumer Reports


Internet cops face growing challenge

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (UPI) -- Inadequate funding and jurisdictional issues are hampering local law enforcement's battle against growing Internet fraud, according to two Texas researchers who recently completed a yearlong study.

"Those involved in investigating and prosecuting Internet fraud feel they lack the staff, tools and training to do their jobs effectively," said Ronald Burns, assistant professor of criminal justice at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. "Many respondents felt that their departments, given a choice, put more resources into fighting street crime."

Burns and co-researcher Keith Whitworth, a TCU sociology instructor, presented their findings to the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in Chicago last month. Their research was supported by the National White Collar Crime Center.

Burns and Whitworth contacted about 2,300 police and sheriff's departments across the country, focusing on about 700 of those with 100 or more officers. The larger agencies were the most likely to be engaged in battling the rising tide of computer crime across the United States.

"We would see these reports about victimization and auction fraud and we just felt that no one was really looking at how prepared law enforcement was to deal with Internet fraud," Burn said Wednesday in explaining why they began the study.

In 2001, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center received 16,775 Internet fraud complaints that were serious enough to be referred for investigation. Recently, federal agents cracked what they called the largest identity theft case in U.S. history and charged three men with stealing credit information from more than 30,000 people.

"Internet crime is increasing by leaps and bounds," said Lt. Robert A. Sanders, who heads Internet investigations for the Dallas Police Department.

"One of the things that we're noticing is identity theft. We're seeing a decrease in credit card abuse and a subsequent, correlating increase in identity theft. Identity theft is perpetrated over the phone and to a great extent over the Internet."

Sanders did not participate in the study but he said there is no question that the growth of Internet crime is a major challenge for law enforcement.

Jurisdiction was a major concern of the agencies contacted in the study because of the interstate and sometimes international nature of computer crimes.

"In terms of jurisdictional issues," Burns said, "many questioned who is going to lead the fight. Internet crimes often are committed in different states and countries. Municipal agencies hear of and investigate Internet fraud, but often are hampered in prosecution by jurisdictional issues."

The survey found there was a "strong feeling" among many of the agencies that the federal government should deal with Internet crimes, but the growth in recent years is such that a major increase in the federal commitment would be needed, he said.

"If we are going to say that federal law enforcement is going to deal with it because they have the jurisdiction, we need a lot more people at the federal level doing it," Burns said. "If we're going to say local departments must deal with it, than they have to be able to overcome jurisdictional issues."

In their research, Burns and Whitworth also discovered that policy makers, who make most of the critical money decisions, are often not as aware as the public of some of the enforcement problems.

"While the public should be made aware of this serious problem," Burns said, "those who decide on resources were not getting relevant information and are not aware of the problems as much as they should be."

The TCU researchers proposed a central information database that would hold information on new laws, investigative tips, and proposed legislation. Through the clearinghouse, information could be shared with state legislators and judges.

Although Internet fraud sometimes fails to get the attention it should in some local agencies, the researchers found, there is no question that those investigators and prosecutors assigned to the task are doing the best they can under the circumstances.

"The resources they are given make it difficult for them," Burns said. "It also is difficult to find the ideal personnel to fight Internet fraud. It is hard to find someone with great computer skills and great investigative skills."

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