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Investigating Cyber Crime At The Local Level

Victims of internet crimes don’t always know where to turn for help. If there’s money involved, they might call their bank. They can also reach out to federal authorities. But trying to navigate the proper channels can be confusing. Local police can sometimes serve as a first response, even if the perpetrator is thousands of miles away.

Detective Angel Reyes certainly resembles a sworn police officer. He carries the standard badge and gun, which are clearly visible. But often, he can be found at his desk using a computer to solve crimes.

Reyes is a 17-year veteran of the DeKalb Police Department. While he’s trained to investigate all sorts of cases, internet crime is one of his specialties.

“I do a lot of the cyber stuff, probably more than some of the other detectives because they are working on other cases,” Reyes said.

While there is not an established cyber crime unit, Reyes says DeKalb Police do dedicate a good amount of time investigating such cases, if they fall under their jurisdiction. Reyes says reports filed by citizens often used to come from the national Internet Crime Complaint Center. But things have changed.

“People would make reports of fraudulent activity to them, and they would refer that case to the appropriate jurisdiction. We use to get referrals from them all the time. They don’t do referrals like that any more so, more or less, victims need to contact their local police department,” Reyes said.

Reyes says he’s not sure why they haven’t been receiving referrals as of late. He says it could just be that local residents haven’t been submitting information to the national help centers. Or that, if they have, the cases haven’t required any help from DeKalb Police. Regardless, he says those groups can still be helpful, but that calling local authorities is crucial.

John Everett handles public relations for the White Collar Crime Center. He agrees.

“You local police is your first line of defense,” Everett said.

Everett says his organization, along with the associated Internet Crime Complaint Center, provides tools and access to resources for victims of cyber crimes. But those groups are not authorized to conduct investigations themselves. A victim could also reach out to the Secret Service, or FBI regional offices. But experts say the Feds only deal with cases that exceed certain amounts of money, and not something on a smaller scale, even if it crosses multiple states.

Meanwhile, Everett says his organization has evolved over the years. Its main focus right now is to train local authorities about the latest trends in internet crimes.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve so we can remain a valuable resource,” Everett said.

In the meantime, victims counting on immediate results from their local police need to know it’s not that simple. Everett says many departments are still financially strapped, and it’s difficult for them to devote enough time and resources to the growing threat of cyber crime.

Detective Reyes says it can also be very time consuming.

“Facebook is not going to give you something in a day. It’s gonna be a month or more. Even if you’re dealing with banks and wire transfers, it’s gonna be a while,” Reyes said.

And Reyes says they have to prioritize. A bigger case involving a different public safety threat will put a cyber crime case on the back burner.

Michael Sena, of the National Fusion Center Association, says a lot needs to be sorted out when it comes to who should be taking in reports, and where they go from there. He says there’s a lot of confusion out there, which doesn’t make it easy for the average victim to request help.

“Larger agencies have some capabilities, but most don’t have the training or education,” Sena said.

Sena’s group is developing a national strategy aimed at coordinating efforts to respond to cyber crime complaints.

Until that’s complete, Sena says it’s still important for victims to call their local department right away, to start the investigative process before it’s too late.