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12/14/2011
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California Forms Cyber Crime Unit

California's eCrime Unit's priorities include identity theft, email scams, and computer equipment theft.

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California has become the latest state to create a law-enforcement unit entirely aimed at catching cyber criminals.

The state's Attorney General Kamala Harris unveiled California's eCrime Unit, which will focus on tracking down and prosecuting identity-theft crimes and other cyber and technology-related incidents.

"Today's criminals increasingly use the Internet, smartphones, and other digital devices to victimize people online and offline," she 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 formation also is likely because of the prevalence of technology-related crimes in California. The state ranked No. 1 in identity theft by state, according to the Federal Trade Commission, and 10 of the top 25 metropolitan areas for online identity theft complaints in 2010 are in California.

Moreover, last year, the state lost $46 million to identity theft cases and more than 1 million of its residents were victims of the crime.

[ Technology can help to identify the people who commit non-cyber crimes. Read Biometric Standard Expanded To Include DNA, Footprints. ]

California joins Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, which also have cybercrime units.

Identity theft is just one of several crimes the new unit focuses on. Others include fraud committed using the Internet, including email scams and the like; the theft of computer components or services; intellectual property crimes, such as software piracy; and child exploitation, such as online child pornography networks and those who commit sex crimes against children using the Internet and social media.

In addition to its law-enforcement activities, the eCrime Unit also provides support to five regional high-tech task forces California has deployed through its High Technology Theft Apprehension and Prosecution Trust Fund Program, as well as coordination to aid in technology-related investigations out of the state. Additionally, it trains law enforcement officers, prosecutors, the judiciary, and the public on cyber safety.

While Harris introduced the unit this week, it has been operational since August. Department of Justice attorneys and investigators staff the unit, which already has participated in notable investigations, according to Harris.

One helped expand the investigation of an identity-theft scam at ATM machines across seven California counties. The scam used a card reader to capture victims' card numbers and a hidden camera to capture the PIN numbers. The case, California v. Aroutiounyan, involved the loss of $2 million.

California has had some high-profile challenges with its overall technology mission, but the state has been in the process of broad reform of its IT practices and aims to maintain a progressive stance on the adoption of new technology.

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