Social networks have changed the way we all interact with each other – and the way criminals operate. Now they use social networks to blab about crimes they are plotting, set up drug deals, brag about wrongdoing, and even upload incriminating videos. That means law enforcement agencies must evolve the way they anticipate and investigate crimes. And to meet the changing customer needs, Thomson Reuters tools and services have to evolve as well.

Panel at Meet the Customer event

From left: Com. Donny Chueng, Officer Kris Kramer, Officer Eric Faulconer, and Robert Cameron

The Thomson Reuters Government segment hosted a special “Meet the Customer” panel session at its Eagan, MN campus this week called “Criminals Use Facebook Too: Crime & Law Enforcement in the Age of Social Networks.” Moderated by Jim Dinkins, former head of ICE, Homeland Security and Investigations, and now vice president and general manager of Thomson Reuters Special Services, the panel featured Thomson Reuters law enforcement customers discussing the new ways and tools they are using to glean evidence from social media to help solve crimes and promote public safety.

Speaking on the panel were special agent Robert Cameron, FBI, Minneapolis; Officer Eric Faulconer, Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), Violent Criminal Apprehension Team; Officer Kris Kramer, MPD, Violent Criminal Apprehension Team; and Commander Donny Cheung, Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force.

Cameron kicked things off by telling the crowd how he looks for more corporate criminals. He explained that LinkedIn is the “honey pot” (something that detracts from actual criminal activity) for someone who is seeking to intrude into a company. For example, a criminal might connect with an employee of Lockheed Martin on LinkedIn, develop a relationship based on networking, and next thing you know, they start exchanging confidential company files. Then the criminal has a link into Lockheed Martin and can infiltrate confidential information of all kinds. “It’s all about social engineering for a criminal,” explained Cameron.

Com. Cheung talked about the changes he has seen in his years with the department, all due to increased digital and social media activity. He said that when he started on the task force several years ago, they had 100 cyber tips, at best, coming in each year from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Last year, they had 950. In the month of May alone, he arrested six people who posted online that they were seeking young children for some type of sexual activity. He also told the crowd that the fastest growing trend in child pornography on the internet is based on sexploitation, where the criminal poses as a teen, befriends other teens and gets them to send compromising photographs, then eventually reveals himself and blackmails them to send more explicit porn.

Officer Faulconer discussed how he uses social media more to locate perpetrators when they don’t want to be found. He described it as more open source rather than covert, since he simply searches various social media site for people based on their names, aliases, known associates, etc. He mentioned a case about a criminal who was exploiting the elderly in Kentucky by posing as a contractor and taking money for home repairs after storm damage. He got a tip that this criminal was in Minnesota, so he searched Facebook and found a picture of the person with the Target Center behind him. This was a giveaway that the criminal was in Minneapolis, so upon further investigation, Officer Faulconer found his cell phone number online and traced it to an Iowa trailer where he found him hiding under a bed before taking him into custody. None of this would have been possible without social media.

Officer Kramer’s use of social media could be described as more covert. He created a fake Facebook account where he has befriended over 100 people. This makes it easier for him to search for criminals on the site, where he can see where they work, live and hang out. Since the majority of criminals he is dealing with don’t have public records, Kramer needs to rely on social media oftentimes to track them down (rather than Thomson Reuters tools like CLEAR).The panel discussed the frustrating nature of social media when seeking out criminals, as well. Cameron mentioned that using social media platforms that are outside of the U.S. can be frustrating because they aren’t obliged to give out any information. Requesting this information can take excruciatingly long periods of time. He also mentioned anonymous platforms that are designed to avoid being identified (i.e., torrents). But the panel agreed that the most frustrating part is how difficult it can be to keep up with all the new trends and platforms in social media. Officer Kramer said that just as he was getting the hang of Facebook, everyone is now using Instragram instead. At least until the next big thing comes around.

When asked how to protect children from the dangers of criminal activity on social media sites, Com. Chueng suggested having a routine every night. Just as you might check all your doors to make sure they are locked, you should also check your computers and digital devices. Make sure kids don’t have access to them in their bedrooms or in areas of the house that you can’t monitor them because this provides a conduit to the outside world. Explain to your children that you can’t trust everyone on the Internet.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this mess,” said Com. Chueng. “We have to educate parents and kids as to the dangers on social media sites.”

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