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Case Histories

Here are a few case histories. Please remember that each case presents its own unique set of circumstances and outcomes. These are here to help give you a sense of what investigative experiences may be common at this time. Names have been changed to protect the identity of our clients.

Cybercrime Investigations

A client, who is married but currently in the process of divorce, is concerned that her husband is logging into an email account and reading her email without her permission. They are currently going through a child custody case and the husband has made threats against the wife. He has indicated that he is “aware” of what is going on in her personal life and has specific knowledge that he could only have if he had access to those emails. This client has asked Without A Trace what could be done to determine if and how he may have accessed her computer/email.

There were many ways to handle this case but the direction was determined based on the interview with the client. Things we considered:
1. Does he have access to her computer or has had access recently?
2. Is the email a local DSL, I.e. version or other cable email account?
3. Is the email yahoo, Google or another internet type account?
4. Is the password she uses a common one that he may be aware of? Or could have guessed?
5. Is her computer acting different in the last few weeks?

Based on what this particular client revealed, the following is how we handled the case. The client wanted immediate determination if their computer and or email was being monitored somehow.

We gained access to the computer and after using several investigative tools found that there were no “screen capture” software or remote access software on the computer. In addition we scanned the computer for any known phishing viruses and determined that none were present. The computer was not a joint computer however the husband had access to it recently. The email account was an internet based account, was not shared by both but the password was common to both and one she had used for many different accounts. We immediately changed her email account information, security settings and the password to something unique with a higher security setting and authentication. Upon completion, the client felt her information was secure and was thrilled with the outcome. She came back to the agency for additional work related to her divorce.

Sexting Investigation

Parents of a 13 year old girl from a local school contacted us because the mom had recently become suspicious of the daughters behavior. We conducted an interview with the mom via the phone as an initial consult. The daughter “Kate” had recently befriended a new group of girls at school within the last few months. Kate was being secretive in all her conversations with her parents, spent a lot of time on the phone and was trying to convince her parents to let her open a Facebook account. The parents advised they were not comfortable with her having a Facebook or any social media account at the moment and they would talk about it at a later time. Kate spent allot of time on her phone and started talking about this boy that she likes and he was very popular and was 15 years old. A few weeks went by and the mother noticed that every time she entered Kate’s room and she was on the phone she would quickly put her phone down and try to hide it. The Mom eventually looked at the phone and was able to review some texts saying somewhat sexual things in nature to this guy named “John”. Nothing seemed too alarming but she was unclear as to what some of the texting slang really meant. A day went by and she overheard her daughter crying uncontrollably. Mom confronted Kate and asked her what was wrong and she told mom nothing was bothering her. Later that night the mom overheard Kate talking to her best friend saying that “there was nothing she could do about it and it was already sent”.

After further questioning, Kate told her mom that “John” turned out to be a jerk and that he was not interested in her and she was so upset. Kate asked her Mom if she was pretty and wanted to know if she thought she was fat. Mom saw this as an opportunity to really sit down and talk to Kate based on the last few weeks behavior. They talked about this boy named John and why Kate was feeling so bad about herself. Mom reassured Kate that she was a beautiful, bright young woman and was not overweight. Mom confronted Kate about her recent behavior in hiding the phone and being very secretive with it. Kate admitted to sending messages to John in attempts to win him over and that some of which were “personal” in nature and that John had sent them around to his friends, which really upset Kate. Out of concern, Mom asked to see Kate’s phone and Kate agreed. Mom immediately saw a picture, sexual in nature of Kate that looked like she had taken it of herself and several messages that were inappropriate. Kate and Mom were both afraid it would be posted to other social networking sites. Mom called our agency for help.

One of our investigators specially trained in both investigations and counseling matters was sent to Kate’s house. The investigator was able to quickly access the phone and performed forensics to uncover deleted text messages and also any pictures. The investigator found two photos of Kate that showed her partially dressed and determined only one of those pictures was sent to John. There were also several texts that were recovered indicating messages of a sexual nature. The investigator logged onto the social networking site to perform a review of what may have been posted on there by John. No photos were found on her site, John’s and any mutual friends. The investigator increased her security settings on the social networking sites and also her computer and phone. The investigator contacted John’s parents and explained to them the issue. They were asked to speak with John and to review his phone for the picture. John’s parents asked the investigator to come to their house and speak with john about the incident and to assist in reviewing John’s Phone. The parents felt they were not technically savvy to look into the matter on the phone thus asked us for assistance with our expertise. Upon review of John’s phone and messages it was determined that John did forward some texts messages from Kate to a few of his friends but did not forward the elicit photo. The photo was immediately removed from the phone permanently and the other friends John had forwarded the texts messages were called by John’s parents to request they be removed.

This is an example of the best case scenario relating to a typical “sexting” case with teenagers. If John would have posted the photo on a social networking site, it could have gone viral extremely fast and lead to a criminal investigation and also subject to a school disciplinary hearing. Both Kate and John, in addition to ANYONE having the photo on a digital media, i.e. cell phones, PDA’s, computers and tablets COULD have been prosecuted for possession of child pornography. The investigator was able to use his (or her?)skills and knowledge as a school counselor and also an investigator to recognize the issues behind the actual incident to effectively gather the evidence and also council and direct the parents on what the law and policy is regarding this matter.