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How cops used Twitter to catch a fish called Wanda

Catch me if you can

I’ve posted before about criminals at large taunting police on social media, with varying degrees of success.

The case of Wanda Lee Ann Podgurski is a worthy addition to the catologue.

Ms Podgurski is a serial fraudster who was convicted in January 2013 of dishonestly acquiring $650,000 from fake insurance and disability claims.

She promptly went on the run.

 

AFishCalledWanda-PosterArt

 

This time it’s personal

Wanda set up a Twitter account and followed just one other tweeter – San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

Like any good new Tweeter, she carefully crafted her profile description:

“On the run, possibly in Iran.”

before tweeting

The US Marshals Fugitive Task Force was able to trace her tweet to Mexico and promptly arrested her, leaving the DA the last word on Twitter:

Read a full version of this story here.

Social Media is The New Face of Disaster Response [Infographic]

Did you know that 76% of survivors of natural disasters use social media to let their friends know they’re safe? You can find more interesting facts about social media’s role in the wake of a natural disaster, including Sandy, in the following infographic developed by University of San Francisco’s Masters of Public Administration department. The infographic was most recently used in a congressional hearing shown on C-SPAN, demonstrating the importance of social media in a natural disaster.

Social Media Quick Tip: Facebook's 'Graph Search' Raises Privacy Concerns

Facebook rolled out what it calls “graph search” last week, effectively turning user profiles inside out. Graph search was announced earlier this year but rolled out to the masses a few days ago. Facebook has a page on how graph search affects privacy, but surprise, surprise, they leave a lot out.

The best way to understand it is to try a few searches. As examples, put in “police officers who live in ” or “photos of ” and see the wealth of information you get. The important thing to understand is that each search is tailored to each user. So two people making the same searches will get different results. It all depends on how the searcher is personally linked to the subjects being searched.

Graph search doesn’t allow people to see any more than they would be able to otherwise, but it certainly makes it easier to find it and serves it all up at once. This is all the more reason to make sure your Facebook settings are locked down on your personal profiles.

Have you hidden your friends lists and your “likes” to prying eyes? Have you set your tagging so you can review tags of yourself and turned off facial recognition? Have you managed the settings of what others share about you? Have you prevented search engines from linking to your timeline? Have you gone through your entire timeline and limited the audience, deleted them or untagged yourself in photos? Have you limited who sees your future posts? If this sounds foreign to you, you’re likely open to the world.

And make no mistake, Facebook is sure to be adding to what information it can pull about its members into the graph search. Imagine if facial recognition is added, then all those photos your friends and family have posted of you that you think no one will ever see are suddenly fair game. Furthermore, there is no setting to opt out of graph search.

Graph search also has huge implications on child crimes. Facebook prevents profiles with ages set under 18 from being searchable by adults. But, as you know, stalkers and sexual predators create fake profiles anyway. If they set their age setting to between 13 and 17, graph search will present them a far greater access to potential victims.

Of course, the flip side is, this works in an investigator’s favor as well.

This Social Media Quick Tip was previously published on LawOfficer.com

How burglars use social media

Burglars go online to pinpoint potential victims

Criminals and law enforcement officials are early adopters of new technologies and social media in particular in their battle to outwit each other.

With recent revelations about PRISM and the activities of GCHQ you would think that law enforcement would have most to gain from the latest digital developments.

Surely, some time soon we’ll be living in a version of Minority Report where cops intervene before the crime is committed?

However, that Utopia (Dystopia?) seems to be a few years away.

In the meantime, there are plenty of ways in which burglars in particular can develop their lean systems to target and gather intelligence on potential victims and minimise the risks of getting caught.

  1. Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare are particularly straightforward ways of finding out if someone is away on holiday or business.
  2. Google StreetView makes advance reconnaissance a piece of cake.
  3. GPS data automatically embedded in social media platforms and photos provides further opportunities

The infographic below summarises some of the main techniques in current use.

Police, Twitter and major incidents

The Demos ThinkTank recently published an interesting analysis of the Twitter conversations between the Metropolitan Police and the public following the vicious murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

Twitcidents

The report authors, Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller, compiled almost 20,000 tweets that included the tag @MetPoliceUK from the week of the Woolwich attack.

They broke down what information people were sharing online, when they shared it and its value as a source of information.

Major incidents of whatever form – disasters, sporting events, terrorist attacks – now inevitably stimulate a massive reaction on Twitter.

These Twitter reactions tend to be very diverse but typically include the sorts of tweets characterised in the wordle I’ve assembled below:

Twitcident wordle

The question that the Demos report tries to answer is whether there is any value for police services in making sense of this surge of data in real time when confronted with the challenges of a major incident.

The challenges for the Metropolitan Police from the Woolwich incident were many and varied, including:

  • Arresting dangerous assailants.
  • Investigating a murder which took place on a public street.
  • Rapidly assessing terrorist risk and possible further incidents.
  • Making themselves available for investigation following the use of firearms in a public area.
  • Public Safety and public reassurance.
  • Gathering intelligence on the inflammatory and confrontational response from the English Defence League.
  • Community relations

As you can see, this list could go on and on – so is there really value in police taking time out to analyse tweets about the incident sent to their @metpoliceuk account?

The Twitter response

One of the first challenges is to remove and ignore the large proportion of tweets which are fake – that is, sent from automated “bot” accounts. In the case of the Woolwich incident, Demos found that 45% of the 19,344 tweets they analysed were produced by a single bot network propagating the following message:

Woolwich bot tweet

Online crime

However, on the actual day of the murder over a fifth of tweets sent to @metpoliceuk were reports of a possible crime on social media.

The most common type of tweets in this category was the referral of social media content itself as evidence about alleged or supposed on-line and off-line crimes, typically instances of threats, bullying and racism.

Once the nature of the Woolwich murder became clear, tweeters passed on information to the police about possible Islamaphobic plots and threats of violence.

Organised petitions

Another large proportion of tweets (23.2% on the day itself) consisted of systematic attempts by large bodies of people to appeal and petition the police via Twitter to influence their policy. There were two main petitions.

The first was a systematic campaign calling for the arrest of a UK-based Pakistani politician accused of inciting violence in Karachi – which did result in a Met Police investigation.

The other was a campaign to the police to release more information about the Madeleine McCann investigation.

Conversation/engagement

One in nine Tweets to the Met Twitter account on that day were direct requests for police information or action.

Some of these were reporting entirely unrelated crimes and incidents, while others wanted further information around events in Woolwich particularly whether the suspects had been arrested.

(Of course, in the recent Boston bombings, social media was used extensively as the suspects were at large for several days following the terrorist attack.)

Sending off-line evidence

Perhaps most interestingly, one in 40 tweets contained what the Tweeter considered as legally relevant, including eyewitness accounts of a wide range of crimes.

A small proportion of these tweets included potentially very useful intelligence:

intelligence tweet

Conclusion

The report authors conclude that this surge in social media interaction with police is obviously a mixed blessing; there is a small amount of potentially useful information included within a torrent of hearsay and rumour plus the inevitable general noise of people just participating in the #Twitcident without any particular motive.

It seems to me that there are two key social media challenges to police in the aftermath of major incidents:

  • To ensure that there is extra capacity to monitor social media accounts and ensure that accurate, timely and rumour busting information is sent out at regular intervals.
  • To have in place a sophisticated system to analyse tweets to provide intelligence and insight.
  • Although short, the Demos report is well worth reading in full.

What’s your experience of the pros and cons of social media following a major incident?

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