Cyberstalking

Children and young adults seem particularly susceptible to sextortion—when a victim is threatened with the release of private and sensitive information unless sexual favors, nude photos, or other demands are met.

But two unrelated cyberstalking crimes committed months apart and hundreds of miles away from each other serve as a reminder of the dangers of compromising personal photos being in the wrong hands, no matter the age of the victim.

In Houston, Heriberto Latigo repeatedly used nude photos of his ex-girlfriend to coerce her to have sex with him. In Crescent, Oklahoma, Troy Allen Martin similarly blackmailed his victim for $50,000.

Both men were eventually convicted and sentenced to prison for their crimes under federal cyberstalking statutes. The harm they caused their victims, however, may never be undone. Such crimes are occurring more frequently, especially among younger victims.

Latigo not only demanded sex, he also sent his victim horrible images and threatening messages. He sent the nude photos to the victim’s sister and male co-workers, and created a disturbing Facebook page that included deeply personal information about the victim.

“It’s a violent crime; he just used cyber tools to carry it out,” said Special Agent Christopher Petrowski of the FBI’s Houston office, who worked the Latigo case.

Latigo’s victim approached local police several times. The case was complicated and the victim’s story changed a number of times, in part because of pressure from Latigo, Petrowski said, making it difficult for local authorities to help effectively. She turned to the FBI, visiting the Houston office in person in spring 2015.

“When someone walks in with a story like that, it’s very emotional and difficult to figure out right away,” Petrowski said. “They’re hurting. This went on for more than a year.”

It took some time for the FBI and federal prosecutors to determine that Latigo had likely violated federal cyberstalking laws. The FBI sent letters to social media companies to preserve certain records in order to prevent Latigo from covering his tracks. Agents also served search warrants, seizing computer equipment from his home.

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Financial Fraud

A 77-year-old former landfill owner and investment banker from Pennsylvania who came up with a surefire way to make money—by illegally charging high interest rates on loans made to those who could least afford them—will likely spend the remainder of his life in prison.

Charles Hallinan, dubbed by prosecutors as the “godfather of payday lending” because his tactics to circumvent state laws and hide his long-running scheme paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps, recently received a 14-year federal prison sentence for his role in collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in short-term loans with interest rates that approached 800 percent.

Prosecutors portrayed Hallinan as a ruthless loan shark who enriched himself by trapping his victims in an endless cycle of debt. His scheme was simple: make small loans with fixed fees that borrowers agreed to pay back quickly, typically when their next payday arrived—hence, the name payday loans. A borrower might take out a $300 loan to cover an emergency car repair and agree to pay it back, along with a $90 fee, within two weeks. But if the loan was not repaid within that time, new fees were applied and the principal was not reduced.

For example, if a person borrowed $300 and agreed to pay a $90 fee with a two-week due date but failed to repay the loan for eight weeks, his or her fee would then be $360, and the original $300 loan would still be due.

“Anyone who didn’t have a desperate need for money would not take out one of these loans,” explained Special Agent Annette Murphy, who investigated the case from the FBI’s Philadelphia office. “People with limited resources were getting sucked into a cycle of paying fees and not paying down the principal.”

That was how Hallinan collected an astonishing amount of money from what is estimated to be hundreds of thousands of low-income victims from around the country. According to court documents, Hallinan was in the payday loan business from at least 1997 to 2013. The documents also revealed that between 2007 and 2013, Hallinan loaned $422 million and collected $490 million in fees. “During that period alone,” Murphy said, “he netted $68 million.”

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Facebook shuts down 1 million accounts per day but can’t stop all ‘threats

Menlo Park California Aug 26 2017Facebook turns off more than 1 million accounts a day as it struggles to keep spam, fraud and hate speech off its platform, its chief security officer says.

Still, the sheer number of interactions among its 2 billion global users means it can’t catch all “threat actors,” and it sometimes removes text posts and videos that it later finds didn’t break Facebook rules, says Alex Stamos.

“When you’re dealing with millions and millions of interactions, you can’t create these rules and enforce them without (getting some) false positives,” Stamos said during an onstage discussion at an event in San Francisco on Wednesday evening.

Stamos blames the pure technical challenges in enforcing the company’s rules — rather than the rules themselves — for the threatening and unsafe behavior that sometimes finds its way on to the site.

Facebook has faced critics who say its rules for removing content are too arbitrary and make it difficult to know what types of activity it will and won’t allow.

Political leaders in Europe this year have accused it of being too lax in allowing terrorists to use Facebook to recruit and plan attacks, while a U.S. Senate committee last year demanded to know its policies for removing fake news stories, after accusations it was arbitrarily removing posts by political conservatives.

Free speech advocates have also criticized its work.

“The work of (Facebook) take-down teams is not transparent,” said Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for free speech online.

“The rules are not enforced across the board. They reflect biases,” says Galperin, who shared the stage with Stamos at a public event that was part of Enigma Interviews, a series of cybersecurity discussions sponsored by the Advanced Computing Systems Association, better known as USENIX.

Stamos pushed back during the discussion, saying “it’s not just a bunch of white guys” who make decisions about what posts to remove.

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Los Angeles to Screen Transit Passengers With Body Scanners

Los Angeles CA Aug 15 2018 Los Angeles’s transit agency said Tuesday that it would become the first in the nation to screen its passengers with body scanners as they enter the public transit system — a bold effort to keep riders safer from terrorism and other evolving threats.

But officials said that riders need not worry that their morning commute would turn into the sort of security nightmare often found at airports or even sporting events. In a statement released Tuesday, transit officials said the portable screening devices they plan to deploy later this year will “quickly and unobtrusively” screen riders without forcing them to line up or stop walking.

“We’re looking specifically for weapons that have the ability to cause a mass casualty event,” Alex Wiggins, the chief security and law enforcement officer for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. “We’re looking for explosive vests, we’re looking for assault rifles. We’re not necessarily looking for smaller weapons that don’t have the ability to inflict mass casualties.”

The devices themselves resemble the sort of black laminate cases that musicians lug around on tour — not upright metal detectors. Dave Sotero, a spokesman for Metro, said the machines, which are on wheels, can detect suspicious items from 30 feet away and can scan more than 2,000 passengers per hour. The units can be pointed in the direction of riders as they come down an escalator or into a station.

“Most people won’t even know they’re being scanned, so there’s no risk of them missing their train service on a daily basis,” he said.

Mr. Sotero said the agency had purchased several of the units for about $100,000 each, but he would not specify exactly how many. He said that the authorities still needed to be trained on how to use the technology.

The county’s metro system has one of the largest riderships in the country, with 93 rail stations alone — and it is set to expand. Mr. Sotero said the new scanning units would be mostly deployed at random stations, but would certainly be used at major transit hubs and in places were large crowds are expected for marches, races and other events.

“There won’t be a deployment pattern that will be predictable,” he said. “They will go where they’re needed.”

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Woman in her 80s caught smuggling $870,000 worth of heroin

An older woman with United States citizenship attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border on Wednesday with 92 pounds of heroin in her car, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The 81-year-old woman attempted to enter the U.S. at the Tecate port of entry — located southeast of San Diego — with the drugs, which have an estimated street value of over $870,000, CBP reports.

The drugs were hidden inside a 2011 Chrysler 200 and were found by a K-9 team, according to a news release.

Cartels are known to manipulate people into carrying drugs over the border.

“CBP officers are aware of the many tactics used by the cartels and remain ever vigilant to stop anyone attempting to smuggle narcotics,” the release quotes Pete Flores, CBP director of field operations in San Diego.

One of those tactics: Drug cartels sometimes deceive elderly people into unknowingly carrying drugs across international borders, luring them with false promises and lies. The growing trend was documented in a 2016 New York Times report.

The woman was arrested and turned over to Homeland security officers. Her vehicle was seized, according to CBP.

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After 12 Years on the Run, Joseph Dibee Has Been Apprehended

Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, one of two remaining fugitives linked to a domestic terrorism group that carried out dozens of criminal acts in the late 1990s, ranging from vandalism to arson, has been apprehended.

The 50-year-old fugitive, a U.S. citizen who had been on the run for 12 years, made an initial court appearance in Portland, Oregon today. He faces additional federal felony charges in California and Washington State.

Federal authorities learned that Dibee was traveling through Central America on his way to Russia with a planned stop in Cuba, according to court documents. With assistance from Cuban authorities, he was detained there before boarding a plane bound for Russia and was returned to the United States.

Dibee fled the U.S. in December 2005. In 2006, he was indicted along with 11 co-conspirators as part of Operation Backfire, a long-running FBI domestic terrorism investigation. The conspirators, known as The Family, have been linked to more than 40 criminal acts between 1995 and 2001, including arson and vandalism, causing more than $45 million in damages. The Family’s 1998 arson attack on a ski resort in Vail, Colorado—which caused estimated damages of $26 million—was its most notorious act.

“The crimes they committed were serious and dangerous,” said Special Agent Tim Suttles, who has been working the Operation Backfire investigation from the FBI’s Portland Division since 2004. “Just because time passes doesn’t mean the FBI forgets. We are very gratified to have Dibee in custody.”

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Prolific Fraudster Sentenced to 40 Years

He was, in the words of the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting him, a “financial predator.” And the federal judge he recently stood before called his long-term fraud crime spree “outrageous” and “despicable,” noting the more than 500 victims ensnared by his latest scheme.

The individual in question is Harris Dempsey “Butch” Ballow, a Texas man who had seemingly made a career out of separating people from their hard-earned money through various financial scams—starting back in the 1980s. But that career has finally come to end: The 75-year-old Ballow was sentenced in May to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding investors in a Nevada company. He was also ordered to pay more than $37 million in restitution to those investors.

And according to FBI Houston Special Agent Kendall Hopper, who worked the case, what made this particular criminal scheme even worse was that Ballow had perpetrated it while he was a fugitive from justice hiding out in Mexico. “Ballow fled the United States in late 2004, right around the time he was scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on a previous federal conviction for fraud-related money laundering,” said Hopper, “but instead of keeping a low profile, he brazenly continued his criminal ways.”

In this most recent scheme that netted him the 40-year prison term, Ballow and co-conspirators were able to buy up the majority of the publicly traded shares of a Nevada company called E-SOL International Corporation and install fictitious people as company officers. At the time, E-SOL had almost no assets and conducted no business. Ballow then rebranded E-SOL as a holding company for a couple of phony businesses—of course controlled by him and his associates—and got to work soliciting investors.

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Violent Gang Leader Orders Eyewitness Murdered

On the evening of October 23, 2014, Douglas and Deborah London of York County, South Carolina—just across the border from North Carolina—were watching television in their home when the doorbell rang. When they opened the door, she was immediately shot in the head by a man standing outside, and her husband was shot multiple times. Their adult son, who was also present, made a frantic call to 911, but the couple died next to each other on the floor of their home.

As the York County Sheriff’s Office began to investigate the double homicide, they asked the FBI’s Charlotte Field Office for help.

In the coming months, the investigative team of FBI special agents and task force officers from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department uncovered a web of violence that stretched across state lines and beyond local prison cells.

Turned out that the Londons had been specifically targeted—they were the owners of a mattress store in Pineville, North Carolina that had been robbed at gunpoint by three men five months earlier. Jamell Cureton, the leader of the Valentine Bloods—a hood, or set, of the national and exceedingly violent United Blood Nation (UBN) gang—had gone into the store and pulled his gun on Douglas London, who had his own gun. The two exchanged gunfire, and Cureton was hit. Also at the scene that day were Nana Adoma, the lookout who was just inside the door; and David Fudge, the getaway driver in the car outside.

The three escaped and drove Cureton to a hospital, but all three were taken into custody shortly afterward by local police and faced state charges.

Realizing that Douglas London was the only eyewitness who could identify him in the mattress store robbery, Cureton—who was in state custody at the time—discussed the “elimination” of London with other gang members through a series of phone calls, letters, and in-person visits.

Valentine Bloods member Malcolm Hartley was to be the triggerman. He was driven to the Londons’ home by fellow gang member Briana Johnson, rang the couple’s doorbell, and murdered them both in cold blood. “And then,” said FBI Special Agent Chad Pupillo, “Johnson drove him back to Charlotte, where they met with other gang members, disposed of the evidence—including burying the murder weapon—and celebrated the victims’ murders.”

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Two malls are using facial recognition technology to track shoppers’

At least two Calgary malls are using facial recognition technology to track shoppers’ ages and genders without first notifying them or obtaining their explicit consent.

A visitor to Chinook Centre in south Calgary spotted a browser window that had seemingly accidentally been left open on one of the mall’s directories, exposing facial-recognition software that was running in the background of the digital map. They took a photo and posted it to the social networking site Reddit on Tuesday.

The mall’s parent company, Cadillac Fairview, said the software, which they began using in June, counts people who use the directory and predicts their approximate age and gender, but does not record or store any photos or video from the directory cameras.

Cadillac Fairview said the software is also used at Market Mall in northwest Calgary, and other malls nationwide.

“We don’t require consent, because we’re not capturing or retaining images,” a Cadillac Fairview spokesperson said.

The software could, for example, say approximately how many men in their 60s used the directory, but not store images of those men’s faces or collect any other biometric data, the spokesperson said.

Instead, they said the data is used in aggregate to understand directory usage patterns to “create a better shopper experience.”

The use of facial recognition software in retail spaces is becoming commonplace to analyze shopper behaviour, sell targeted space to advertisers, or for security reasons like identifying shoplifters.

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Researchers Create Framework to Stop Cyber Attacks

A new study by Maanak Gupta, doctoral candidate at The University of Texas at San Antonio, and Ravi Sandhu, Lutcher Brown Endowed Professor of computer science and founding executive director of the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security (ICS), examines the cybersecurity risks for new generations of smart vehicles, which includes both autonomous and internet-connected cars.

“Driverless and connected cars are increasingly becoming a part of our world, where cybersecurity threats are already a reality,” Sandhu said. “It’s imperative that we support research that addresses these concerns and presents a strong, innovative solution.”

Cars with internet connectivity, also known as “connected cars,” offer potential for many conveniences and innovations. They could allow for real-time and location-sensitive communication between drivers or even pedestrians, which could help make the roads safer for both. The connectivity could also allow the cars to capture safety and environmental conditions around the vehicle, including road obstructions, accidents, which also enables real-time vehicle-to-vehicle interaction on road.

“Connected cars have almost infinite possibilities for creative technological applications,” Gupta said. “Companies could even take advantage of the connectivity to implement location-based marketing tactics, providing drivers with nearby sales and offers.”

However, the researchers caution that as soon as cars are exposed to internet supported functionality, they are also open to the same cybersecurity threats that loom over other electronic devices, such as computers and cell phones. For this reason, Gupta and Sandhu created an authorization framework for connected cars which provides a conceptual overview of various access control decision and enforcement points needed for dynamic and short-lived interaction in smart cars ecosystem.

“There are vulnerabilities in every machine,” said Gupta. “We’re working to make sure someone doesn’t take advantage of those vulnerabilities and turn them into threats. The questions of ‘who do I trust?’ and ‘how do I trust?’ are still to be answered in smart cars.”

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