Pedophiles on the prowl, Computer experts help police corner online predators

Friday, July 07, 2006

An investigator with the Douglas County High Tech Crimes Unit, posing as a 13-year-old girl, exchanges instant messages with a pedophile. The pedophile is clueless as to with whom he is talking, describing in detail sexual acts and sending pornographic photos. He suggests meeting for sex and climbs into his vehicle, driving several hundred miles to pick up the "child," where deputies are waiting.
Following the pedophile's arrest, a search warrant is issued and his computer seized. The computer is taken to the Rocky Mountain Regional Computer Forensic Lab and every file is extracted from the hard drive to be examined. The examiners find more victims - victims who are not undercover investigators, they are children."Some victims don't even realize they were victimized," said Lt. Ron Harvey, assistant director of the Rocky Mountain computer forensic lab. Charges against the pedophile begin to add up, and the forensic lab provides prosecutors with indisputable evidence for trial.The Rocky Mountain computer forensic lab in Centennial is one of 10 such labs in the county. Three more labs will be added before the program is fully developed. The labs are becoming increasingly necessary as computer use in crimes grows.
Pedophiles once were limited to preying on victims in their communities, but the Internet has allowed them to troll online, searching for victims in other cities and states.The regional labs work together to corroborate evidence. In the instance of a 22-year-old Texas man who was arrested in Parker earlier this year, he may stand trial in Colorado, but the Dallas lab can examine evidence from his computer.While pedophile and child pornography cases account for 50 percent to 60 percent of the computer forensic labs' cases, the labs also process evidence for homicide, terrorism, theft and fraud cases, among others."If a major crime is committed, it's very likely a computer was involved at some point," Harvey said.
In the case of homicide victims, the lab works backward, examining a victim's hard drive to find the perpetrator. The lab makes a copy of the hard drive and very rarely needs to boot the computer. After a copy of the hard drive is made, examiners begin the tedious process of reading every file. A recent smaller case included more than 400,000 files, and it takes two days to sift through a 160-gigabyte hard drive. Examiners search homicide victims' e-mail accounts, instant message conversations and text documents to determine any relationships the victim had."Many times, the victim knew the bad guy who did this," Harvey said. Computers are often seized and examined in suicide cases as well. The victim will sometimes write a suicide note on the computer. Even if the document has been deleted, the lab can recover it.
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