Cyber Crimes

Knowing what to look out for online can help you protect yourself from crimes online. These tips from the Cyber Crimes Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office will ensure you know what to look out for and avoid cyber crime.

Table of Contents

Cyber Stalking

According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, "cyber stalking" is threatening communication or unwanted advances directed at another person using the Internet and other forms of online and computer communications. It can involve the use of email, instant messaging, chat rooms, bulletin boards and/or other electronic communication devices to repeatedly harass or threaten another person.

The process of stalking a person in real life generally requires that the perpetrator and victim be in close physical proximity. Cyber stalkers can be across the street, the country, or the globe from their victims. Cyber stalking can cause the same kind of trauma to its victims as "traditional" forms of stalking. Cloaked behind a username, stalkers can be difficult to identify. Some repeatedly change usernames and accounts to slow down or deter the identification process. The anonymity of the Internet makes it easier for perpetrators to carry out their attacks against their victims.

How Cyber Stalking Can Happen

Cyber stalkers meet their victims in a variety of ways. Frequently, the cyber stalker and the victim have had a prior relationship (either online or in real life) and the cyber stalking begins after the relationship has ended. In some cases, however, cyber stalking is committed by strangers who have obtained a victim's personal information on the Internet. Unwitting victims may post a treasure-trove of personal identifying data on social networking sites including their age, phone numbers, personal interests, and photographs. Cyber stalkers can use Internet search engines to find out additional information they can use to harass their victims.

Cyber stalkers are generally motivated by a desire to control their victims. Statistically, most cyber stalkers are men; however, there are reported cases of women cyber stalking men and same-sex cyber stalking. Victims can be any age. Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) conducts annual surveys on cyber stalking; for more information, visit the WHOA website.

Sophisticated cyber stalkers have been known to use computer programs to send messages at random or regular intervals without the cyber stalker even being at their computer terminal. Some impersonate the victim and post personal information along with controversial or suggestive messages on bulletin boards or in chat rooms.

Information for Victims

If you are a victim of cyber stalking, it is important that you know the steps available to promote your safety, document the harassment, and initiate an end to the abuse. Victims who are teens or children should immediately tell their parents or another adult they trust about any harassment or threats. Adult victims should send a clear, written warning to the harasser to stop the contact or harassing behavior. It is important however to avoid getting into a "back-and-forth" exchange with the harasser. If at any time you feel your physical safety is in jeopardy you should contact your local police department for assistance.

Documenting all communication with the offender and any organizations you contact for help in stopping the harassment may be of assistance should the harassment continue. Saved documentation can include all emails, postings, or other communications including log files from IM and chat clients in both electronic and hardcopy format that are not altered or edited in any way. You may want to explore whether you can block the offender through your email program or chat room. If the behavior continues, you may also file a complaint with your Internet service provider (ISP) and your harasser's Internet service provider (ISP). Most ISP's have a department that is available to speak with you.

If the harassment continues, or if at any time you fear for your personal safety, contact your local police department. If the local police are unable to assist you, the Massachusetts State Police, your local District Attorney's office, or the Attorney General's may be able to provide assistance.

For further information about cyber stalking and how to protect visit: and

Massachusetts Laws Governing Cyber Stalking

M.G.L. c. 265, s. 43: defines stalking as willfully and maliciously engaging in conduct that seriously alarms or annoys a specific person and would cause reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress and makes a threat with the intent to place person in fear of death or bodily injury. Such conduct, acts or threats include, but are not limited to, conduct, acts or threats conducted by mail or by use of a telephonic or telecommunication device including, but not limited to, electronic mail, Internet communications and facsimile communications. Stalking is a felony that is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for up to five years or by a fine of not more than $1000, or imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or both.

Child Enticement & Exploitation

Child enticement and exploitation are serious crimes. Child enticement means conduct, or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such conduct, constituting criminal sexual abuse of a minor, sexual exploitation of a minor, abusive sexual contact of a minor, sexually explicit conduct with a minor, or any similar offense under federal or state law.

Children of all age groups use the Internet for socializing, school projects, music and entertainment. The Internet can open up a world of information, but unfortunately, it can also open up a world of danger, with children particularly vulnerable to this risk. Sexual predators lurk in chat rooms and visit social networking sites scanning for victims. Once they make contact they quickly develop friendships by feigning common interests. Vulnerable children can quickly develop emotional dependence on people they meet on the Internet.

How It Can Happen

It is important to remember that children can be victimized without face-to-face contact with perpetrators. Inappropriate "chat" can be highly sexualized and there may be a transfer of sexually explicit information and material. Children lack the emotional maturity to discern inappropriate contact. This makes them more vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation. Many children seek attention and validation. Predators are all too ready to provide it to them. The anonymity of the Internet allows predators to hide their identity and children may assume they are conversing with someone closer in age and status than the predator actually is.

Predators may initiate an offline meeting for sex early in the online relationship or may spend months "grooming" the victim for a sexual relationship. When the predator is ready to move the relationship into the physical world, he or she may coax their victims with gifts and other material goods. Predators have been known to offer bus or plane tickets and money to entice the child to travel to areas where the predator will have greater control over the child.

Protect Your Children

Parents must be ever vigilant in protecting their children from online predators. The best approach is a preventive one. Just as parents/guardians work hard to know , in the real world, what their children are doing and who they are doing it with, they need to be just as vigilant with their children's' online lives. Talk to your child about the risks of forming online relationships. Tell children to never give out personal information to anyone that they do not personally know - in real life - and never arrange to meet someone face-to-face that they met on the Internet. Stress that impostors prey on children and that predators are skilled at creating false impressions. Review the information on the Monitoring Internet Use page of this website for tips on restricting your child's access to offensive or inappropriate sites.

Contact local or state law enforcement immediately if:

  • Your child, or anyone in your household, receives child pornography.
  • Your child has been sexually solicited by anyone who is aware that your child is under the age of 18.
  • Your child receives sexually explicit material from someone who is aware that your child is under the age of 18.

Warning Signs

Have you found sexually explicit material on your child's computer? Predators often supply victims with sexually explicit material as a way to steer the conversation toward sex. If you find sexually explicit material on the computer, your child may be a victim of a predator. Be aware that the child may hide this information on CDs or other removable media.

Is your child receiving calls from numbers that you don't recognize or making calls to unknown long distance numbers? Predators elevate their contact with the victim by moving the conversations from the Internet to the telephone. Even if a child refuses to disclose his or her phone number, predators will provide their own telephone number, and some predators have obtained toll-free numbers so that potential victims can call without parents knowing. Once the child calls, predators can obtain the child's number from caller ID.

Other warning signs may include packages and gifts mailed to your child from an unknown address. Children viewing pornography or involved in sexually explicit conversations will be quick to hide this from parental eyes. If your child turns off the monitor or computer when you approach it may be a sign that something is amiss. Although teenagers are prone to mood swings, withdrawal from the family can be a cause for concern. Predators work to drive a wedge between the child and the rest of the family. Vulnerability increases with distance and decreased familial dialogue.

For more information on warning signs, view the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website.

Hate Crimes, Racism, & Hate Websites

Hate crime are those in which the defendant selects a victim, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person. It is a crime to threaten another individual or group of individuals or cause damage to property belonging to another individual.

The First Amendment protects our right to freedom of speech, and although hateful dialogue can be hurtful and offensive, it usually is not a crime. Websites that express blanket statements of hatred of certain ethnic groups, present racial comments, or that attack religious affiliations or sexual orientation - even if they target individual people and cause emotional pain - are still protected by the First Amendment.

When speech becomes a direct, credible threat, however, it is no longer protected by the First Amendment.

The Internet has introduced new and efficient ways for people to communicate their thoughts and feelings about people, organizations and institutions. It has also offered a new medium for hate speech. The virtual anonymity of the Internet allows extremists to mask their identity behind anonymous screen names, encrypted addresses and websites that can be updated, deleted and relocated in seconds.

Illegal Downloads, Copyright, File Sharing & Piracy

A copyright is a form of protection, granted by the laws of the United States, to the creator of an original work of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works, to control the distribution, usually for a limited time, after the work enters the public domain.

Generally, copyright is enforced as a civil matter although some jurisdictions do apply criminal sanctions. Copyright limitations are recognized by most jurisdictions and some exceptions to the author's exclusivity of copyright are allowed giving users certain rights. However the Internet and digital media have created new and challenging tests of the copyright laws. New technologies, including peer-to-peer sharing of digital files, have prompted reinterpretations of the exceptions and a new surge in the fight for copyright protection.

Digital Music and Software

Most recently, the music industry launched a campaign to fight the illegal downloading of songs via the Internet and file sharing, peer-to-peer networks like Ares, BitTorrent, Gnutella, Limewire, and Morpheus. These networks provide the framework for users to request and receive digital transmissions of copyrighted sound recordings from other users on the network. A request is sent out over the Internet to find the requested song on another user's computer. Within seconds, that illegal file is downloaded to the requestor's desktop.

Criminal activity on these networks isn't confined to the music industry. These file-sharing networks also allow users to search for pirated (illegally copied copyright material) software packages. The software is easily downloaded along with the serial number needed to install and access the program. Videos are also being illegally copied and shared.

Risks of File Sharing

Some of the illicit networks actually seize a portion of the user's hard drive for illegally uploading and downloading files to network members around the world. It all happens once you register as a member and all of the files on your computer hard drive can be accessed. Depending upon the settings you choose everything including financial information, private data and sensitive documents become fair game. Not all users are aware of this vulnerability. The practice of using file sharing sites also invites the threat of viruses, Trojan horses, and other harmful code that may be resident in unauthorized files.

The risks involved in illegally reproducing or distributing copyrighted material are significant. It is against the law both to upload and download the copyrighted works of others without express permission to do so. It is stealing and both civil and criminal penalties are severe. Criminal penalties for first-time offenders can be as high as five years in prison and $250,000 in fines even if the offender didn't do it for monetary or financial commercial gain.

When the offender is a minor, it doesn't make the infraction any less of a crime. In fact, it may subject the minor's parents or guardians to legal action. Civil liability can extend to parents even if they are unaware that their child is stealing.

There are websites and programs from which it is legal to download digital music files for a fee, such as iTunes, Napster, and Yahoo Music, among others. Users should note that some illicit peer-to-peer networks charge a fee to upgrade to a higher version of their program. This fee should not be interpreted as payment for legal copies of the digital files. It is not, and therefore any files downloaded are done so illegally.

Massachusetts Laws Governing Copyright Infringement

M.G.L. c. 266, s. 143A: Unauthorized reproduction and transfer of sound recordings. Whoever directly or indirectly by any means, knowingly transfers or causes to be transferred any sound recorded on a phonograph record, disc, wire, tape, film, videocassette or other article on which such sound is recorded, with intent to sell, rent or transport, or cause to be sold, rented or transported, or to use or cause to be used for profit through public performance such article on which such sound is so transferred, without the consent of the owner, or whoever sells any such article with the knowledge that the sound thereon has been so transferred without the consent of the owner, shall be punished as provided in section 143E.

M.G.L. c. 266, s. 143E: Violations of Secs. 143A to 143C; punishment. Whoever violates any provision of section 143A to section 143C, inclusive, shall be punished:

(i) by imprisonment for not more than 1 year in the house of correction or by a fine of not more than $25,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment;

(ii) by imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2 years or by a fine of not more than $100,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment if the offense involves less than 1,000 but not less than 100 unlawful sound recordings or less the 65 but not less than 7 unlawful audio visual recordings; or

(iii) by imprisonment in state prison for not more than 5 years or by a fine of not more than $250,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment if the offense involves not less than 1,000 unlawful sound recordings or not less than 65 unlawful audio visual recordings.

Illegal Purchases

Electronic commerce has opened a world of possibilities for consumers. It allows buyers to quickly compare prices between products and to easily purchase wanted merchandise. Remember, that if it's illegal to buy it in person, it's still illegal to purchase it on the Internet. Buying illicit drugs over the Internet is, of course, a crime. It is also illegal to purchase any controlled substances, including pharmaceuticals over the Internet without a valid prescription. Certain weapons are outlawed in Massachusetts and you risk prosecution if you purchase these items via the Internet.

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