Cyberstalking is increasingly becoming a common crime in today’s world of the use of the internet. Conducting an investigation into this type of crime may be new to many investigators and law enforcement. Here are some steps to follow to assist investigators, law enforcement or you – if you are a victim of this type of crime – as you will need to know what type of information to document to assist in tracking down the perpetrator. This form of harassment should be taken as seriously as any other crime.
The Preliminary Investigation
After the law enforcement officer or investigator determines this is indeed a cyberstalking case, he or she should initiate a preliminary criminal investigation. It is important to obtain from the complainant a detailed description of the harassing behavior, including any personal contacts, such as telephone calls or being followed.
Step 1: Ask the complainant if he or she knows who is sending the harassing messages. If so, obtain the standard investigative information about the suspect: name, age, address, telephone number, vehicle information, and relationship to victim. Obtain a copy of the messages for the case file showing the e-mail address, Web site URL, nickname, screen name, and the content(s) of the message(s).
Step 2: Ask the complainant if he or she knows why he or she is being harassed. If so, record the complainant’s explanation in as much detail as possible in the narrative portion of the report. Knowledge of the reason can help lead to the identification of an unknown harasser.
Step 3: Establish when and how the harassment began. Has the contact been solely via the Internet (e-mail messages, chat rooms, mailing lists, instant messages, Web site) or has there been other harassment such as telephone calls, cell phone calls or texts, postal letters, or contacts at the complainant’s workplace or other locations, and whether any of the complainant’s relatives or friends have also been subjected to the harassment.
Step 4: Determine whether the complainant has been threatened with physical harm or physically attacked. Often, the electronic messages will threaten violence, rape, and even death. The law enforcement officer will need to establish the details of how these threats were communicated. If the complainant has been attacked, it is apparent the threat has escalated beyond electronic threats. Details of the attack and results of the subsequent investigation of that incident become part of the case file.
Step 5: The law enforcement officer or investigator needs to secure any physical evidence available and start the chain of custody to protect the evidence. The material should be saved in both paper printouts and electronic files on an electronic medium such as a disk or CD/DVD-ROM. Ask the complainant if he or she has any material evidence. Items to request include:
- E-mail messages
- Chat room messages
- Instant messages
- Web page images
- Social networking messages/wall posts
- Mailing list messages
- Message board messages
- Telephone/cell phone conversations or answering machine messages
- Text messages
- Postal letters
MSI Detective Services is experienced and equipped to handle this type of investigation. Visit our list of services if you need help.
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