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Calif. Launches eCrime Enforcement Unit

December 15, 2011  | 

Photo: California Attorney General
Photo: California Attorney General

California has created a task force to identify and prosecute identity theft, cyber crimes and other crimes involving the use of technology. The eCrime Unit will be staffed with Department of Justice attorneys and investigators, Attorney General Kamala Harris announced today. 

Many of these crimes are multi-jurisdictional and are better suited for prosecution on a statewide level, Harris said. The eCrime Unit, which began operations in August, consists of 20 attorneys and investigators.

"Today's criminals increasingly use the Internet, smartphones, and other digital devices to victimize people online and offline," Harris said in a statement. "I am creating the eCrime Unit so that California can be a leader in using innovative law enforcement techniques to target these criminals. The eCrime Unit will be comprised of investigators and prosecutors charged with working across jurisdictions and leading task forces to protect California consumers and businesses."

The eCrime Unit investigates and prosecutes crimes that include a substantial technology component. The following examples of crimes the unit will prosecute come from a release from Harris' office:

  • Identity Theft: The Internet provides new ways for criminals to steal personal information and identities whether through e-mail phishing scams or trolling the Internet for personal information about others.
  • Internet Fraud: This includes scams perpetrated via e-mail and on Internet auction websites.
  • Computer Theft: Burglary and robbery of computers or other electronic devices by highly organized gangs at manufacturing sites, storage facilities and retail stores.
  • Intellectual Property Crimes: 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.

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. California has the most identity theft complaints of any state and third highest per capita, according to the Federal Trade Commission. More than 1 million Californians are victims of identity theft each year. Total losses throughout the state exceeded $46 million last year.

The eCrime Unit will also provide investigative and prosecutorial support to the state's five regional high-tech task forces and provide coordination for out-of-state technology crime investigation requests. The eCrime 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.

The unit has already logged two success stories.

Five felony charges—including possession of unauthorized and counterfeit jewelry from five different companies—were filed Dec. 8 against Chen Zhang in San Joaquin Superior Court, Harris also announced. Investigators seized $1.5 million of counterfeit goods from her residence in Tracy on Nov. 3.

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 at $2 million.

The attorney general's office also launched of a new cyber safety website. The website contains information about online child safety, identity theft prevention tips and help for victims.

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