Social media, cell phones newest vessels for criminals, law enforcement

By Don Coble Managing Editor
Posted 8/7/19

Technology is the newest weapon used by both law enforcement and criminals. It’s a high-tech game of cat and mouse, with information floating throughout the world wide web as chunks of …

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Social media, cell phones newest vessels for criminals, law enforcement


Technology is the newest weapon used by both law enforcement and criminals. It’s a high-tech game of cat and mouse, with information floating throughout the world wide web as chunks of megabytes and megapixels that can be retrieved for either good or bad intentions. During the next four weeks, we will look at how technology has changed how police patrol their beats. From surveillance systems, to social media and cell phones, to ransomware threats to identity theft, a crime can be committed or resolved by a simple keystroke.

The series continues with a look into how cell phones and social media play a significant role in assisting law enforcement.

An Oakleaf man recently boasted on social media on how much money he made with his home-based business. It didn’t take long for thieves to read in online and force their way into his home, where they tied him up, beat him and threatened him with a gun before stealing $140,000.

Five people eventually were arrested and charged in connection with the crime after detectives connected a cell phone call from one of the suspects to the crime.

Social media and cell phones quickly have become a challenging frontier for both law enforcement and criminals.

People think little about posting vacation pictures on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. For a thief, that’s an open invitation to an empty house.

There are five common crimes that are committed by using social media: online threats, stalking and cyberbullying; hacking and fraud; buying illegal goods; videos of crime; and, vacation robberies. As quickly has they’re caught, criminals create a new page to stay one step ahead of the law.

Too often, obvious clues easily remain online without notice.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump called on social media outlets to work “in partnership” with the Department of Justice to help detect mass shooters before they commit crimes. Several recent shootings may have been thwarted if threats or troubling information posted on sites had been reported.

Killers and thieves no longer have to wear masks to commit their crimes. They just need to log on.

“Sometimes it’s as simple as going on a search engine and looking up having sex in Jacksonville,” said Clay County Sheriff Det. Ryan Ellis. “You’d be surprised what will pop up. You can go on the internet and search ‘How to I buy heroin?’ Anything you want is on the internet. The internet has become a vessel for anything – good or bad.”

Including children.

Clay County currently has five detectives and deputies who patrol human trafficking.

“The internet has revolutionized the way they pray on children,” Ellis said. “They don’t have to hang out at a park to pray on them anymore.”

Criminals often brag about their crimes – many on a live feed. University of Central Florida criminal justice professor Raymond Surette described it as “voyeuristic” and rooted in celebrity culture.

“This is why they blow up: You no longer simply have to read just a news account of this; you can go online, you can interact, retweet, redistribute, add to the content if you want,” he told “You’re not only looking over the shoulder – you’re actually participatory in this.”

Websites also a fertile ground for scams. Fake pages are designed to collect money for a worthy cause, especially following a tragedy. Just this week, officials in El Paso, Texas warned the public of several fraudulent sites asking for donations following the mass shooting at a Walmart.

“We spend a lot of time trying to educate people on social media scams,” CCSO spokesman Drew Ford said. “There are a lot of sites that are trying to hack your information or take your money. We’re always look for fake pages for money.”

Criminals also are on the lookout for fake pages created by law enforcement. It’s become an effective tool in making sweeping arrests for drugs, prostitution and human trafficking. While social media may seem appear to be a social and marketing platform, along with cell phones it’s become a necessary crime-fighting tool.

Fewer inventions have been more beneficial to law enforcement than cell phones. Since each essentially are equipped with GPS, it’s easy to pinpoint a phone’s location and the time it was used.

An active cell phone can be “pinged” to an exact address. Suspects often incriminate themselves by offering an alibi that is contradicted by their own cell phone.

Cell phones also make it easier for call for help. They also make it possible to record active scenes to create the kind of digital forensics that’s difficult to refute. And since most people have a cell phone, it’s increasingly more difficult to escape unnoticed.

“Smartphones and cell phones have become a regular part of criminal investigations because they are now owned by most people and provide information about a person’s whereabouts and a person’s contacts,” Adam Pincus, a Legal instructor at South University, Online Programs said. “This helps to jumpstart a criminal investigation.”


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