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National expert to train police on using Internet for criminal investigations

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Usually the first thing a bank robber does after making off with a large heist is upload a photo to Facebook and flash the stolen money, an online criminal investigations expert said this week.

That's why police investigations have to keep up with the more than 900 million people using social media websites around the world, said Indiana State Police Lt. Chuck Cohen, commander of that state's special investigations and criminal intelligence section.

Cohen will instruct West Virginia law enforcement officers Thursday during a training event hosted in Raleigh County by the National White Collar Crime Center. Cohen has shaped his investigation techniques over the years focusing on cyber crime, online fraud, money laundering and Internet crimes against children.

"One of the general topics we will be discussing is using online social media for criminal investigations," he said. "We can start by looking at what information people post online whether it's a victim, witness, suspect or an informant."

People's concept of "public versus private" has come a long way in the past few decades especially for those under 30. These days people -- including criminal suspects -- expect to have email or some basic online presence, he said.

"Sometimes in a criminal organization people are posting information that they wouldn't tell the most trusted people in that organization," Cohen said. "Yet they are still putting it online."

Cohen trains police to search websites for these kinds of posts and to learn more about those who are being victimized.

"What a suspect puts out there and what information is maintained by Internet service providers, these are things that can be obtained by search warrants," he said.

Today suspects don't even need to be in the same country to commit a crime, he said: "There's no such thing as a local investigation anymore."

In investigations involving child pornography, police can obtain ISP information, or a computer's unique identification, to find a suspect's location. Federal law requires ISP providers to preserve a user's data for 90 days.

Cohen also will teach police how to look at images containing cryptic data. For instance, photos taken on smart phones may contain longitudes and latitude locations.

He will talk about hackers and their secretive operations. Hackers have existed since the early days of the Internet but now their motivations are changing, he said. They can have political motivations, or a desire to disrupt services just for the fun of it, he said.

Cohen hopes the event will give state officers the chance to stay ahead of the wave when it comes to online trends in crime.

"This has been an area of investigations that I've been working on quite a while, about 18 years," he said. "Communication has become less and less about traditional voice communication."

The training event will be held at the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center in Beaver from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with registration beginning at 7 a.m. It's open to all state law enforcement and is good for eight in-service credit hours.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.

 


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