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Friday, 18 April 2014

Cumbria police: We’re closing the net on cyber stalkers

The internet is great for emailing, chatting and having fun. But with social media sites becoming ever more popular, users can fall victim to hate crime.

Stuart Hyde photo
Deputy Chief Constable Stuart Hyde

And with many of us using sites for shopping and banking, there’s the worry of someone else hacking – and emptying – your account, or even stealing your identity.

Cumbria’s Chief Constable Stuart Hyde is an international expert on computer crime and president of the charity the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace.

He said: “Five or so years ago, few people used Facebook. That has now changed.”

“It is becoming much more common for incidents, not necessarily crimes, to have some sort of Facebook link and we are seeing this in Cumbria.

“It can be anything from details about a crime, a witness or the cause of a crime that gets posted on Facebook.”

Figures released last May show that Facebook was a “key element” in more than 40 crimes in the previous two years.

In 2010 ,there were 32 crimes where the social networking site was classed as a “key element” in the offence.

The previous year, in 2009, there were just 11 crimes linked to the site, a mixture of harassment, sexual offences, other unnamed crimes and a rape.

Facebook said its site was featuring more frequently in everyday conversations as the number of people using it soared.

Mr Hyde said: “One of the most important things for us is making sure my own staff know what Facebook is and how to access it.

“All members of staff have access to the internet for work purposes and they know how to use social networking sites. It’s very important to be able to do this so they have an understanding of how it works when they are investigating incidents.

“The collaboration we get from Facebook and YouTube when we are investigating crimes is pretty helpful to say the least.”

The Cumbria force, however, does not have a dedicated team of officers dealing with internet crime. Mr Hyde, 52, said: “I don’t think I could justify having a team that deals solely with the internet.

“The issue for us is making sure that officers understand Facebook and what they can do with it.

“Last year there were 14,000 references to Facebook on our communications system.

“The mentions are for all kinds of things – a broad spectrum from threats to annoyances.”

The Cumbria force regularly uses Facebook and Twitter for witness and missing person appeals.

Mr Hyde said: “This is one way we can get the message out there quickly.”

Earlier this week it was Safer Internet Day. It focused on ‘connecting generations’ and it aimed to encourage families to explore online technology together.

Mr Hyde said: “We had an online questions-and-answer session which went very well.

“We urge everyone to stay safe online. People should control their password and their profile and check that they know who they are talking to.”

Celebrities like X Factor star Cher Lloyd have spoken about their experiences of Facebook and Twitter after claims of cyber bullying.

Cher spoke out this week on national radio about their own experiences for Safer Internet Day. She said she was a victim over a long period of time when she would be called names about 10 times a day because her family are of Romany gypsy origin.

“I felt like I didn’t fit in and I wasn’t what everyone wanted. I wasn’t the perfect popstar that people wanted me to be and it made me feel really, really lonely,” she said.

“When I was getting all this online abuse, I became completely cut-off from everything. I didn’t want to go out of the house, I didn’t want to speak to anyone. I didn’t want to do anything just in case something really bad happened to me”

She also said the bullying made her question her new found fame after the X Factor and whether it was all worth it.

“I was sick of sitting there and thinking ‘I hate what I’m doing. I hate that I’ve gone on a show, and now everyone knows me. I’m public property and now there’s nothing I can do, it’s my problem, I’ve got to deal with it’. And then I realised that I didn’t have to deal with it on my own.”

Cher said she realised there were other people out there suffering the same thing and if she spoke out, others would too.

Celebrity Big Brother winner and Loose Woman regular Denise Welch revealed she had reported internet “trolls”, who told her to kill herself, to police.

And Kylie Minogue has also reported an online stalker to cops after receiving death threats via Twitter at the hands of a “deluded weirdo”.

For details and handy tips as to how to stay safe online visit www.getsafeonline.org.

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