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Crime & Safety

‘Harassing Emails and Texts:’ Tales of Cybercrime in the City

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by Joshua Chang

LOS ANGELES (Crosstown) –A July cyberattack against Los Angeles city computers resulted in the data theft of about 20,000 police department applicants’ personal information, many of whom are now active LAPD officers.

But online crime is not limited to massive data heists. It can include online credit card fraud, hacking and even online harassment.

Online crime in the City of Los Angeles has been rising steadily since Jan. 1, 2010, when the LAPD started making its crime data publicly available.

However, it dipped in the first eight months of this year. From Jan. 1 – Aug. 31, 2019, there were 2,057 online crimes reported to the police. That is a 13% decrease from 2,365 reported online crimes in the first eight months of 2018.

We included the following offenses in our definition of online crime from the LAPD crime database:

  • Suspect met victim online
  • Internet-based theft
  • Child pornography via computer
  • Credit card fraud
  • Cyberstalking
  • Denial of computer services
  • Destruction of computer data
  • Harassing email, text messages
  • Hate crime material
  • Identity theft via computer
  • Introduction of virus to system
  • Minor solicited for sex via internet
  • Theft of computer data
  • Threatening email, text messages
  • Suspect met victim on an online chatroom
  • Unauthorized access to system
  • Internet extortion
  • Victim paid by wire transfer

Yet, despite the recent dip, today’s numbers far outstrip the online crime from just a few years ago. During all of 2010, there were just 410 online crimes reported to the LAPD.

The most common online crime reported in the first eight months of this year was “Harassing E-Mail/Text Message/Other Electronic Communication,” with 923 reported instances. The second highest category was similar: using texts of emails to make threats, with 358 reported crimes. 

The difference between the two is that “threatening messages have shown repeated criminal intent,” said Det. Russell Kumagai of the LAPD computer crimes unit. “Also, threatening messages are felonies.” 

Six of the seven reported cyberstalking crimes this year involved female victims of color; at least two were sexual in nature. 

In one incident, the current or former boyfriend of the 23-year-old black female victim allegedly cyberstalked her on May 14 in a single family dwelling on 700 block of East 55th St. in the South Park neighborhood. 

In the City of Los Angeles, identity theft via computer spiked in 2016, but the numbers have remained steady since. In 2018, 25 identity thefts via computer were reported, with 16 cases from Jan. 1 – August 31, 2018. 

From Jan. 1 – Aug. 31 of this year, 13 identity thefts were reported. 

In one case at 5:45 p.m. on March 10, a suspect committed credit card fraud and stole a 26-year-old white female victim’s identification or driver’s license in the Sun Valley neighborhood.

However, that number likely is only a small fraction of the total number of both online and off-line identity thefts that happen, said Det. Kumagai. 

“The department literally gets thousands of reports [of identity theft] every day,” he said. 

In fact, even in 2003, there could have been as many as “10,000 reported identity theft incidents within the City of Los Angeles,” according to the LAPD website. 

However, the LAPD was unable to comment on why their website is at odds with their publicly available crime data. 

That number includes identity thefts that happen both online and offline. For example, stealing personal IDs and mailed credit cards from individual mailboxes can also be classified as identity theft, said Det. Kumagai.  

Another major element of online crimes, of course, is financial crimes. There were 384 financial crimes, which include extortion, internet theft, credit card fraud and wire transfer. Financial crimes accounted for 18.7% of all online crimes in the first eight months of this year.

Notably, 150 crimes so far this year involved the suspect meeting the victim in an online chatroom. Many of these incidents developed into the suspect meeting the victim in real life and subsequently committing crimes.

For example, of these 150 reported crimes, there were nine rapes, two attempted rapes and two batteries with sexual contact committed by the suspect.  

There were 28 sexual crimes that began from online chat rooms. There were also 14 cases of child pornography and 11 cases of minors solicited for sex this year. 

How we did itWe examined LAPD publicly available data on reports of crimes with the 18 crime codes described above for the first eight months of 2019.

For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.

LAPD data only reflect crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available.

On occasion, LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.

Want to know how your neighborhood fares? Or simply just interested in our data? Email us at askus@xtown.la.

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Online crime is not unknown in Los Angeles. Witness the massive cyberattack in July. It not limited to massive data heists. It can include online credit card fraud, hacking and even online harassment. Data is available for regions and dates, showing cybercrime is leveling off this year.

Crosstown covers the neighborhoods of Los Angeles in a different way — through data — to help people make their neighborhoods and the city safer, healthier, and more connected.

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Crime & Safety

Petition Circulating to Ask Judge to Keep Ed Buck in Jail

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Ed Buck

LOS ANGELES — On the eve of the one year incarceration of Democratic donor and activist Ed Buck in the deaths of two Black gay men, Justice 4 Gemmel and All of Ed Buck’s Victims has begun gathering signatures for a petition calling upon Magistrate Judge Rozella A. Oliver to deny bail to Buck. 

The petition comes after Ed Buck, 65, petitioned the court arguing that he is at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 while in jail due to his age and because he says he suffers from gum disease and needs specialized cardiac care.

“Nah. He says he has gum disease and a heart issue. So then while in jail, he needs to watch what he eats, brush his teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss and use some mouthwash,” said Jasmyne Cannick who advocated for Buck’s arrest.  “He might also consider not engaging in any type of physical activity that would excite him.  The bottom line is that he’s a danger to Black men at any age–COVID or no COVID. He was in his 60s when Gemmel and Timothy died so he should not be allowed to use his age now to get out of jail.”

Buck is awaiting trial on charges of supplying illegal drugs to two men who overdosed and died inside of his West Hollywood apartment within a year and a half of each other.

Ed Buck’s attorneys have said that he would sign a $400,000 appearance bond, surrender his passport, and would agree to electronic monitoring if released.

Buck is charged with nine federal counts–including one count alleging that he knowingly enticed 26-year-old Gemmel Moore to travel to the Los Angeles area to engage in sex work and provided him methamphetamine who overdosed on the drug and died on July 27, 2017. Buck also is charged with another count of enticing another man to travel with the intent of engaging in prostitution. On January 7, 2019, Timothy Dean died of a methamphetamine overdose in Ed Buck’s apartment.

After his arrest last year on Sep. 17, a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment charging that Buck “engaged in a pattern of soliciting men to consume drugs that Buck provided and perform sexual acts at Buck’s apartment,” which is a practice described as “party and play.” Buck allegedly solicited victims on social media platforms, including a gay dating website, and used a recruiter to scout and proposition men.

Buck also faces charges, including operating a drug house, that were filed last year by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Cannick continued, “Even if the courts mandated that Buck cannot use a computer, fly people into town, or use social media dating sites, there is nothing in his history to indicate that Buck would change his previous behavior that led to the deaths of two men and the near-death of countless others. Nothing.”

Ms. Cannick also shared that many of Buck’s victims have contacted her and are concerned about their safety should Ed Buck be released.

“I’m disturbed and devastated,” added Joann Campbell, sister of Timothy Dean.  “The thought of this dangerous man– who I believe killed my brother– even being considered for bail is outrageous. I am pleading to the judge to hold Ed Buck in jail until his trial. He is responsible for two deaths in his apartment.  My brother and Gemmel Moore are dead because of Buck.  This is a slap in the face to our families. He is a dangerous man and will most likely kill again if let out. Please keep him behind bars.  I’m afraid for Black gay men in Los Angeles if he is released.”

“Ed Buck’s previous history shows he is a danger,” said LaTisha Nixon, the mother of Gemmel Moore. “After Gemmel was killed we warned that another person would end up dead if he wasn’t arrested and Buck did not prove us wrong as Timothy Dean was killed just a year and a half later. We repeatedly told authorities Ed Buck was out of control and still after my son and Timothy Dean died, he was up to his old tricks and attempted to fatally overdose another man. If he is released he will continue to prey upon Black gay men. Ed Buck is a menace and deserves to be held in custody to ensure that no other person is killed by Ed Buck.”

“I am just speechless as well as restless just thinking of what will happen next–who will be the next to die–if Ed Buck is released from jail,” said Joyce Jackson, sister of Timothy Dean.

Cannick concluded with, “I am all for bail reform, but people like Ed Buck should not be the beneficiaries of the bail reform movement.”

The petition will be delivered to the Magistrate Judge and to federal prosecutors at the September 25 hearing in Los Angeles. Anyone interested can sign the petition here.

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Hit & Run

Man Sentenced for Hit-and-Run Death of Pedestrian on Sunset

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HOLLYWOOD — A 21-year-old man has been sentenced for the hit-and-run fatality of an Australian man in Hollywood last year, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced today.

Kristopher Ryan Smith of Norwalk was sentenced yesterday to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service and three years of formal probation.

Deputy District Attorney Kristopher Gay said Smith pleaded guilty in February to one felony count of hit-and-run driving and one misdemeanor count of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence.

On April 18, 2019, at 1:30 am, the defendant was driving and hit and killed 56-year-old Andrew Mallard as he was walking across an uncontrolled portion of Sunset Boulevard at Formosa Avenue. Smith fled the scene but later turned himself in.

Case BA479208 was investigated by the Los Angeles Police Department, West Traffic Division.

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Fraud

Beverly Grove Man Charged for COVID Relief Loan Fraud

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LOS ANGELES – A resident of the Beverly Grove neighborhood of Los Angeles was ordered held without bond this afternoon after being arrested on federal charges alleging he fraudulently obtained millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, some of which he used on gambling excursions to Las Vegas and transferred to his stock trading accounts.

Andrew Marnell, 40, was arrested this morning by federal authorities. Marnell made his initial court appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles, where he was ordered detained pending a hearing on Tuesday.

A criminal complaint unsealed in court this afternoon charges Marnell with one count of bank fraud and alleges he obtained more than $8 million in PPP loans through applications to insured financial institutions, and others, on behalf of different companies. During today’s court hearing, prosecutors said they now believe Marnell received approximately $9 million in fraudulent loans – a number that could rise as the investigation continues.

The affidavit in support of the complaint alleges that Marnell submitted fraudulent loan applications that made numerous false and misleading statements about the companies’ business operations and payroll expenses. The affidavit also alleges that Marnell, often using aliases, submitted fake and altered documents, including bogus federal tax filings and employee payroll records.

The complaint further alleges that Marnell then transferred millions of dollars from the fraudulently obtained loan proceeds to his brokerage accounts to make risky stock market bets. The affidavit also outlines how Marnell spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulently obtained loan proceeds at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino and other gambling establishments as recently as last weekend.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was designed to provide emergency financial assistance to millions of Americans who are suffering the economic effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. One source of relief provided by the CARES Act is the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses for job retention and certain other expenses through the PPP. In April, Congress authorized more than $300 billion in additional PPP funding.

The PPP allows qualifying small businesses and other organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and an interest rate of 1 percent. Businesses must use PPP loan proceeds for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent and utilities. The PPP allows the interest and principal to be forgiven if businesses spend the proceeds on these expenses within a set time period and use at least a certain percentage of the loan towards payroll expenses.

A criminal complaint is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

The bank fraud count alleged in the complaint against Marnell carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Housing Finance Agency – Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – Office of Inspector General, IRS Criminal Investigation, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General. The California Department of Justice – Bureau of Gambling Control provided assistance in the investigation.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Kerry Quinn of the Major Frauds Section and DOJ Trial Attorney Scott Armstrong of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form

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