Archive for September, 2009

Gangs on the Internet

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Everyone engaged in technology today is using some form of social media. Law enforcement is learning to deal with it and so are the criminals. Gang members have found it to be a great communication source and are regularly using social media to keep in contact. MySpace, Facebook and especially Bebo, have become popular places for gang members to hang out.  The term used to describe gang members activity online is Cyberbanging. Cyberbanging isn’t a brand new term, but it is probably not widely known outside of its gang member users.

General intelligence collection is a task that the web can offer gang investigators. Blogs, social media pages, tweets can all give the law enforcement gang investigator valuable information about the goings on in a gang and potential strife between varying factions.

Law enforcement generally identifies a criminal street gang by having 3 or more members, common symbols or leadership, and gathering together to commit crimes or a continuing criminal conduct (or enterprise). They also generally classify gang members according to one of four criteria: 1) self admission, 2) a reliable informant confirms membership, 3) an unreliable informant confirms, and a second source corroborates, and 4) via confirmed law enforcement source.

The Internet can help identify gang affiliation by finding the members’ self admissions, i.e. photos of gang activity, comments indicating gang activity and being the corroborated source of information. A member’s MySpace page can contain significant information about them and their activities.

Those investigating gang members need to look on the Internet for potential members of their local gangs. Failing to do so could potentially overlook threats or trophy shots of criminal behavior that could prevent or solve crimes. In the worst cases, they may find the evidence to support a murder as a gang related crime as in the Jamiel Shaw case in Los Angeles. By many reports Jamiel was a star athlete. The dark side of his life was his Cyberbanging as a member of the Bloods.  His MySpace page tells a very different story of his life then many people thought. There he allegedly proclaimed his gang membership and flashed gang signs.

Documenting this kind of online activity easily supports a law enforcement agency’s investigation into gang activity.

Sources of Online Information: Some Background

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Cynthia Navarro understands how overwhelming Internet searches for information can be. Not only does she do them in the course of her work as a private investigator, but she also regularly teaches law enforcement officers, corporate practitioners, and others about what’s available and how to find it.

Her “Sources of Online Information” webinar grew out of that experience. “The Internet is a tool that augments what you already have and enables you to get more,” she says. “I base my training on how investigators can get what they need. If they need an individual’s professional information, there’s LinkedIn or Spokeo. If they need personal information, I show them what they can and cannot get from various sites, and how that information is presented.”

She also shows how to perform “creative” searches across Web sites, not just in Google but using search utilities included in social networking sites. “Different results come up for my name, Cynthia Navarro, than for ‘Cynthia Navarro’ enclosed in quotes,” she explains. Likewise results that include a keyword combined with a name, such as the individual’s interests or profession.

Sometimes investigators must collect information from people directly, using social networking sites to get personal. Such “pretexting” is necessary because people would not otherwise give up information to someone they know is an investigator. Pieced together with data gleaned from searches, this can become an invaluable means of constructing a case.

Connecting people, connecting identities

Navarro provides numerous examples of the ways it’s possible to use Web-based information to connect people to each other, as well as to find “other lives” they lead. One man she investigated turned out to have a profile on Match.com—as a woman. “People you wouldn’t expect to be associated with certain sites turn out to have a real dark side,” Navarro explains.

They also have certain habits, “things they need to get out there about themselves,” she says. “One CHP officer used his police vehicle and uniform in one of his Match.com pictures. I used him as an example in my classes, and not long after, his profile was deleted. But when he came back later on, using a different profile with different information, he still had a photo of a police vehicle.”

Navarro recognized him because she’d talked about him so much; she now uses the example to discuss how one deleted profile doesn’t necessarily mean another isn’t available.

Keeping up with information changes

Because Web-based information changes so rapidly, Navarro teaches that two things are important:

  • Evidence capture and preservation. “Within just one hour, a profile can go from public to private or even deleted,” she notes.
  • Evidence verification. “Some people post totally false information, so the investigator needs to know where to go to verify that what’s out there is true,” she says. Likewise what they find on information retrieval services, which may not contain the most up-to-date data.

Overall, as Navarro teaches, many different tools exist for evidence capture; investigators must know which are most appropriate for the investigator’s needs at the time. She cites Archive.org as one example of ways investigators can see what a website looked like at a certain point in time.

Most important for investigators to know: “The enormous amount of information at their fingertips,” says Navarro.

Christa M. Miller is Vere Software’s marketing/public relations consultant. She specializes in law enforcement and public safety and can be reached at christa at christammiller dot com.