Social media busts crime

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Nooooo, it’s Super Social Media! — the crime-fighting hero cracking down on stolen vehicles in Red Deer. And fighting crime around the world. A new Facebook page, Red Deer Stolen Vehicles, has joined the Internet detective forces springing up across North America to catch the bad guys. And it’s getting results, according to a recent account in the Advocate.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. Nooooo, it’s Super Social Media! — the crime-fighting hero cracking down on stolen vehicles in Red Deer. And fighting crime around the world.

A new Facebook page, Red Deer Stolen Vehicles, has joined the Internet detective forces springing up across North America to catch the bad guys. And it’s getting results, according to a recent account in the Advocate.

Take resident Lana Bridges for example. Her husband’s Ford F-350 pickup went missing from behind their Deer Park home.

The theft and photo of the vehicle were posted on the Facebook page. A week later, Bridges gets a phone call from a Blackfalds resident who twigged onto the crime-fighting page and said “she was sure that truck was sitting in front of her Blackfalds house,” the Advocate reported.

Case solved — it was the stolen truck. “It was social media that found our vehicle,” said Bridges. Her niece had earlier suggested she post the theft on the Facebook page.

On Sept. 5, a Mountview resident posted the theft of two vehicles. Case solved again, according to a Sept. 11 posting over the site.

Started in March, the page has evolved into the place to go for victims of vehicle thefts — a crime ranking high in statistics, according to Red Deer RCMP. Police reported a whopping 600 thefts or attempted thefts of trucks, cars, SUVs and minivans during the first eight months of this year in the city.

While Superman can fly faster than a speeding bullet, criminal activity posted on the Internet is instant. This high-tech super-sleuth is increasingly being used around the globe to crack cases of all proportions — from vehicle thefts, to murders, to sophisticated terrorist activities.

CNN reports that Facebook is the most fruitful social network for law enforcement, followed by YouTube.

“Leveraging Facebook is just one of many ways law enforcement officials are gleaning evidence from social media to help them solve crimes,” says CNN in a special report.

In the United States, for example, these techniques are slowly catching on, according to a survey by LexisNexis Risk Solutions, an arm of the U.S. LexisNexis Group, which provides computer-assisted legal research.

The recent survey of 1,221 federal, state and local law enforcement who use social media “four out of five officials used social media to gather intelligence during investigations. Half said they checked social media at least once a week, and the majority said social media helps them solve crimes faster.”

While it doesn’t take much brain power to access the Internet, the downfall of many not-so-bright crooks is that they love to boast about their crimes online.

They don’t seem to realize this technology is plugged into the entire world, for all to see. Prime candidates for a sequel to the 1994 comedy Dumb & Dumber, these egotistical, unsophisticated idiots are “a boon” to police, CNN reports.

Cincinnati police, among the pioneers in the U.S. to tap into the Internet as an investigative tool, “soon discovered criminals were using social networks to blab about crimes they were plotting, set up drug deals, brag about wrongdoings and even upload incriminating videos.”

In one 2008 case, CNN reported, “Ronnie Tienda Jr. was convicted of a gang-related murder in Texas based largely on incriminating words and photos he had posted publicly on his MySpace pages.”

Facebook is also used by police working undercover in Canada and the U.S. to flush out sex offenders and pedophiles. Setting up a fake site posing as a young girl or boy, the cops arrange covert meetings with unsuspecting suspects.

Facebook, where almost nine per cent of accounts are believed to be fakes, is not pleased with these sting operations.

“It just undermines the integrity of our whole service if we allow people to use false accounts,” said Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s chief security officer, adding that creating a fake profile is against Facebook’s terms of service — even for police.

But the practice is not illegal and evidence obtained will hold up in court. And these fake Facebook accounts are being used by real sex offenders, lurking in the popular social media venues looking for victims.

Rick Zemanek is a former Advocate editor.

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