When I first heard that next January, CBS will start airing CSI: Cyber, the latest spin on its long-running, scientifically questionable forensic crime drama, I thought to myself: What a boring, boring idea for a show. Episode after episode would be FBI analysts sitting in front of their computers, running analysis tools on seized hard drives and grimacing every time a piece of child porn flashes across their screens. Then, when they go to arrest the guy, he takes a plea deal in 10 minutes. Isn't that how it always goes?
Nope. This week, I scanned the last six months' worth of San Diego cybercrime stories and press releases (the headlines from which television writers love to rip). I was wrong: From Ghanaian witchcraft to scary clowns, cybercrime is as weird as anything in the real world:
Jan. 16: San Diego police arrested Randolph Jenks, who allegedly posed as an iPhone buyer on Craigslist, then tried to short-change sellers on the agreed price. If they argued back, he allegedly whipped out a gun, stun gun or pepper spray.
Feb. 10: Hector Carreon, a nurse's assistant, was sentenced to 50 years for child pornography, including sharing files of an 8-year-old being molested by a clown. When the feds raided his home, they literally found him with his pants down—with a minor—and more than 1,400 illegal images and videos on his computer.
Feb. 28: Although this was announced by the U.S. Attorney's office the day arrests were made, the indictment was only unsealed on July 2. Basically, three guys from Tijuana are alleged to have hacked into a mortgage broker's system and stolen mortgage applications (chock full of sensitive personal information) in a conspiracy that went on for two years. They're accused of committing fraud with that information, including setting up Sam's Club and Walmart credit cards.
March 27: A San Diego man, who had previously lived in St. Louis, was sentenced to 15 months for hacking into Nefesh B'Nefesh, an Israeli organization. He also bragged about it on Twitter at @_AnonymouSTL_ (which no longer exists). According to Hackmageddon.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Anonymous-affiliated attack gathered up 594 names, addresses and encrypted passwords.
April 1: Eight people were indicted for abusing one of my favorite websites: the state's unclaimed-property database. Basically, this is a site containing all the chunks of money that are owed to people but haven't been claimed. Most of the time, if folks don't claim it, it just ends up going into the government budget through a process called escheatment (we've written about how that's kind of theft in itself). These people allegedly pretended to be the rightful owners and collected $1.5 million in unclaimed money.
April 15: San Diego Superior Court sent out a warning that phishers were sending virus-laden emails to San Diegans claiming they were official messages from the court.
April 30: Howard Willie Carter was sentenced to 14 years in prison for having 600 child porn images on his computer and trying to upload at least one to YouTube.
May 9: The San Diego County Sheriff's Department announced the results of "Operation.com," in which 19 people were arrested in a scheme to sell drugs online through Facebook and Craigslist. According to the Los Angeles Times, the drug dealers used "code names like 'roofing tar' for heroin and 'Roxy board shorts size 30' for 30 milligrams of Roxicodone."
May 23: Three men were indicted as part of a fraud scheme orchestrated from Internet cafes in Ghana. They'd buy stolen credit-card details off the Internet, then use those cards to purchase vehicles (including from an El Cajon KIA dealership) for resale in Ghana. The most interesting element is that, according to the FBI, "All three defendants are alleged to have been involved with 'Sakawa,' which is a Ghanaian practice that combines modern Internet-based fraud practices targeting foreigners with traditional African religious rituals."
June 10: Michael Gonzales, a 23-year-old student in Spring Valley who apparently went by the username "Metatron," was sentenced to 10 years for child pornography. In all, prosecutors said he had 170 videos and 22,300 images, including six involving bondage.
June 16: A San Diego judge ruled that Kevin Bollaert, the proprietor of ugotposted.com, would face trial for allegedly running a scam in which he'd charge people (usually women) up to $350 to get naked pictures of themselves removed from his site. Prosecuted by Attorney General Kamala Harris, it's being promoted as the first criminal case brought against a "revenge porn" site. Ugotposted.com now forwards to the National Conference of State Legislature's page for "State 'Revenge Porn' Legislation."
July 1: The San Diego Sheriff's Department "officially" launched its new Cyber / Financial Crimes Investigations Unit. According to U-T San Diego, the head of the unit refuses to have a Facebook page.