Online scams. Identity theft. Cyber stalking. Malicious software. Computer hacking.
The list is long when it comes to cyber crimes in today’s world, affecting growing governments, businesses and citizens in a variety of ways throughout the globe.
It’s a crime Det. Sgt. Derek Tolmie of the Victoria police financial crimes division admits police in general are struggling to keep up with. The reason, he said, is that cyber crime often crosses multiple jurisdictions, leaving police and the judicial system wondering who should investigate the case. Another problem is the sheer lack of resources compared to the number of criminals operating behind a screen anywhere in the world.
“We are so ill prepared to deal with cyber crime properly and the best we can combat it is to educate people,” said Tolmie, noting there’s no borders with the Internet. “There’s millions of people out there that are committing a crime and thousands of cops. We can’t keep up on it.”
According to Public Safety Canada, there are various ways thieves gain access to information in cyberspace. They can exploit vulnerabilities in software and hardware, and trick people into opening infected emails or visiting corrupted websites that infect their computers with malicious software.
They also take advantage of those who fail to follow basic cyber security practices, such as changing their passwords frequently, updating their antivirus protection on a regular basis and using only protected wireless networks. Once the crooks have access to a computer, they can steal or distort the information stored on it, corrupt its operations and program it to attack other computers and the systems to which they are connected.
In many cases, victims also suffer a theft of their identity and/or personal assets, with 1.7 million Canadians falling victim to the crime in 2008. The thieves sell the information stolen online, such as credit and debit card numbers, login passwords for computer servers and malicious software designed to infiltrate and damage targeted systems.
In 2013, the RCMP received more than 4,400 incidents of cybercrime — an increase of more than 40 per cent from 2011. As criminals become more sophisticated, so does the array of cyber attack tools and techniques.
According to Tolmie, police in the U.K. are leaders when it comes to fighting cyber crime, but Canada still has a lot of catching up to do. Investigating the crimes, however, is nearly impossible at times.
Tolmie rarely gets the money back when it comes to financial crimes, and even when there’s a paper trail for local frauds, it often involves crossing jurisdictions.
In one case investigated by Victoria police, a substantial amount of money was taken from a large company through a cyber attack. Officers managed to seize the money in an overseas bank account that was minutes away from being transferred to another bank. Three weeks were spent doing the appropriate documentation to have the money returned, but Tolmie said police aren’t any closer towards figuring out who’s responsible for the crime.
In another case, someone came into Victoria police headquarters to complain about a Craigslist scam where $300 was spent for two tickets to a concert in the Lower Mainland, but the tickets were never received. Police spent months working on the file and were able to determine the suspect — a female who was likely living in Edmonton at the time, but had since moved to Montreal, and was profiting $100,00 to $150,000 a year by ripping people off through online scams.
Detectives sent the file to the Crown in Victoria, but Tolmie said nobody wanted to own it since it involved a fraud under $300, one complainant living in Vancouver who responded to a Craigslist ad in Victoria, and a suspect now living in Montreal.
“Until the law enforcement gets on the same page as the courts, we’re going to be constantly chasing our tails,” said Tolmie, who can’t believe some of the things people put about themselves online.
“At the end of the day, common sense goes a long way….We have to start taking responsibility for our own actions. We can’t always count on the police or the government to protect ourselves when we don’t use common sense.”
Read the first part of the two-part series here.