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December 16, 2011 > eCrime unit targets technology crimes

eCrime unit targets technology crimes

Submitted By Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced on December 13, 2011, the creation of the eCrime Unit, staffed with 20 Department of Justice attorneys and investigators, many of whom have spent years working on complex technology crimes. The unit is charged with identification and prosecution of identity theft crimes, cyber crimes and other crimes involving the use of technology.

"Today's criminals increasingly use the Internet, smartphones and other digital devices to victimize people online and offline," said Harris. "I'm creating the eCrime Unit so California can be a leader in using innovative law enforcement techniques to target these criminals. The eCrime Unit will work across jurisdictions and lead task forces to protect California consumers and businesses."

Crimes that include a substantial technology component and are subject to investigation and prosecution by the eCrime Unit include:

Identity theft; the Internet provides new ways for criminals to steal personal information and identities whether through email phishing scams or trolling the Internet for personal information about others.

Fraud committed using the Internet; this includes scams perpetrated via email and on Internet auction websites.

Theft of computer components or services; burglary and robbery of computers or other electronic devices by highly-organized gangs at manufacturing sites, storage facilities and retail stores.

Intellectual property crimes, such as counterfeiting or piracy; large numbers of websites and online networks exist solely for the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, such as movies, music and software.

Child exploitation; disrupting online child pornography networks and those who commit sex crimes against children using the Internet or social media.

Many of these crimes are multi-jurisdictional and better-suited for prosecution on a state-wide level. The eCrime Unit began operating in August 2011.

Technology crimes affect consumers, businesses and the state government's operations. California had 10 of the top 25 metropolitan areas for identity-theft related consumer complaints in 2010. According to the Federal Trade Commission, California has the most identity theft complaints of any state and third-highest per capita. In fact, every year, more than a million Californians are victims of identity theft. In 2010, total losses throughout the state exceeded $46M.

The eCrime Unit will also provide investigative and prosecutorial support to the five California regional high-tech task forces funded through the High Technology Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Trust Fund Program and provide coordination for out-of-state technology-crime investigation requests. The Unit also will develop and provide training for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, the judiciary and the public on cyber safety and the importance of strong information-security practices.

Several cases highlight the work of the eCrime Unit. In July 2011, George Bronk, a Sacramento-area man was sentenced to more than four years in state prison after hacking into email addresses and Facebook accounts of victims by finding answers to email security questions. He found indecent pictures and video and then blackmailed the victims who were located in at least 17 states and the United Kingdom.

Harris announced the filing of five felony charges against Chen Zhang on December 8, 2011, in San Joaquin Superior Court. Zhang is being charged with possession of unauthorized and counterfeit jewelry from five different companies. Investigators for the Attorney General's Office seized an estimated $1.5M of counterfeit goods from her residence in Tracy on November, 3, 2011.

In another case, defendants allegedly ran an identity theft scam at ATM vestibules across seven counties. They allegedly used a card reader to capture victims' card numbers and a hidden camera to capture the PIN numbers. Total losses are estimated to be $2M. The case (California v. Aroutiounyan) originated in San Luis Obispo County, but the Department of Justice eCrime Unit was investigated and charged the entire scheme across all seven counties.

The Attorney General has launched a new website devoted to cyber safety at http://oag.ca.gov/cybersafety which contains information about online child safety, identity theft prevention tips and help for victims.

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