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Cops overwhelmed by cybercrime

Law enforcement officers fighting Internet fraud feel ill prepared to wage an all-out battle on the ever-increasing serious crime, according to a new university study. Lack of resources and jurisdictional issues were cited as major problems in a nationwide survey of some 2,300 law enforcement agencies. “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 and study director. “Many respondents felt that their departments, given a choice, put more resources into fighting street crime. From the Texas Christian University:Law enforcement officers fighting Internet fraud feel ill prepared to wage an all-out battle on the ever-increasing serious crime, according to a new university study.

Lack of resources and jurisdictional issues were cited as major problems in a nationwide survey of some 2,300 law enforcement agencies.

“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 and study director. “Many respondents felt that their departments, given a choice, put more resources into fighting street crime.

“Yet, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center’s web site received 16,775 Internet fraud complaints worthy of being referred to law enforcement agencies during 2001. Federal authorities just broke what they called the biggest identity theft case in U.S. history and charged three men with stealing credit information from more than 30,000 people, with losses estimated at $2.7 million. These numbers demonstrate the significance of Internet fraud and the need to identify the readiness of law enforcement professionals at all levels to prevent and control this white collar crime.”

The study was supported by the National White Collar Crime Center and was conducted in collaboration with the FBI. Burns and co-researcher Keith Whitworth, instructor of sociology at TCU, focused on responses from some 700 largest regional police departments and sheriffs’ agencies.

“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.

“There is a strong feeling that federal law enforcement should be dealing with these crimes. But Internet fraud is occurring at such a great extent that we would have to substantially beef up federal law enforcement. Currently, there are not enough federal agencies involved in investigating and prosecuting Internet fraud.

“The study results indicate that we haven’t strategically identified our attack on the problem. It is now being fought in piecemeal fashion. We need to address jurisdictional issues and determine who will lead the fight. We need to provide the necessary resources at the state and local levels. If it is to be handled on the federal level, we need to provide the necessary personnel.”

Burns, who presented study results at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology in November in Chicago, said another major problem identified by the survey involved information exchange. The researchers found that information was being provided to a greater extent to the general public than to policy makers and prosecutors.

“While the public should be made aware of this serous problem,” he said, “those who decide on resources were not getting relevant information and are not aware of the problems as much as they should be. To address this issue, we’ve proposed a central information database or clearinghouse that would hold information on new laws, investigative tips, and proposed legislation. Through the clearinghouse, information could be shared with legislatures and judges.

“The survey also indicated a greater need for collaboration among agencies. Many are not aware or are not taking advantage of available opportunities. Information on training is not being shared. A centralized database would facilitate both communication and collaboration.”

Burns and Whitworth said that in their study of law enforcement, they have found a tendency for agencies to neglect electronic crimes, recognizing that they are crimes of the future.

“These survey results provide evidence that these crimes are being neglected,” Burns added. “That is not to suggest that those fighting electronic crimes are not doing their best. The resources they are given make it difficult for them. 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.”

The researchers plan to further analyze specific areas of the survey with more detail and develop additional studies from the data.

“There is great room for improvement in our fight against Internet fraud,” Burns said. “Those involved in investigating it believe it is a greater problem than all of the other groups, including judges and prosecutors. They deserve more recognition, and they also need resources to help them.

“We are not very well prepare to fight Internet fraud, but not because of those actively engaged in enforcing these laws. They are competent and doing well, but don’t have the necessary tools. We could do as better job with the proper tools.”



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