Though technology has changed our lives in countless positive ways, there is also a dark side to technology. Mary Stanton, Chief of the cybercrime and white collar crime unit of the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office, has seen the explosive growth of crime associated with the internet.
Stanton is a life-long Lake County resident. Working at the Lake County Treasurer’s Office while in high school and college put her in touch with attorneys from the State’s Attorney’s Office which sparked an interest in the legal field. She interned at the State’s Attorney’s Office while a law student and then worked full-time there after graduation. Stanton worked in various divisions of the State’s Attorney’s Office including traffic, misdemeanor, juvenile, felony review and felony. She subsequently was Chief of the juvenile as well as the misdemeanor divisions.
Stanton has held the position of Chief of the cybercrime and white collar crime unit for 7 years. The unit has grown from just one attorney to 3 attorneys, an investigator, paralegal and a cybercrime lab. Stanton has gained expertise in the field through classes, self-education and learning from specialists from other agencies such as Homeland Security and the Illinois Attorney General.
In addition to prosecuting cybercrimes, Stanton’s unit also advises other divisions of the State’s Attorney’s Office and police departments on matters of digital evidence as such evidence can be part of any type of crime today. The cybercrime unit also educates the public by giving talks to families about safety on digital devices.
Crimes that are prosecuted by the cybercrimes unit include sexting and revenge porn. Sexting, or taking nude photos and texting them can be prosecuted as child pornography if the photo is of a child under age 18. A conviction of child pornography carries serious consequences such as registration as a sex offender which is for a lifetime, as well as the possibility of prison. Sexting can also involve cyber bullying as well as exploitation.
Revenge porn is when compromising photos taken during a relationship are used by one party after a break-up and are posted online. It was difficult to prosecute such cases until the passage of a law directed at this situation which occurred about a year ago. Unfortunately, the law only applies to adults and does not extend to those under 18. Stanton hopes that the law is expanded to cover children under 18.
Stanton advised that in order to avoid becoming part of a cybercrime, families need to be aware of internet safety. They should look at the devices of their children and keep the lines of communication open. Moreover, parents can exert more control over devices through the settings of the devices.
Stanton stated that the profile of a typical predator can be surprising to most people as these predators tend to be an average joe, and not some creep in a trench coat. Convicted sex offenders can be sentenced to prison though many receive probation and are monitored by the Sex Offender Unit of the Probation Department of Lake County. Such probationers receive intensive treatment and are monitored closely both as to their physical whereabouts (i.e., no contact with children) and their internet usage. Such practices help keep the public safe and restore offenders.
In addition to cybercrime, Stanton’s unit of the States’s Attorney also prosecutes white collar crime such as identity theft. Identity theft can be frustrating to prosecute as it difficult to find the offender and involves a long trail of investigation. Methods of stealing personal information can be as varied as dumpster diving or the selling of personal information obtained from employers. Stanton recommends that people be proactive in checking their free credit reports periodically and bank accounts frequently. The Illinois Attorney General website is a great resource for tips regarding the prevention of identity theft.
Other crimes prosecuted by the white collar crime unit include embezzlement and other financial crimes. As Lake County is home to a number of large corporations, these crimes occur with some regularity. Ransomware also occurs, especially in smaller businesses. This involves the hijacking of a firm’s computer data until a ransom is paid. Stanton recommended that businesses back up their data on a separate drive not plugged into their system to avoid becoming a victim of ransomware.
As with so many situations in life, Stanton advised the best way to avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime or white collar crime, is to use common sense. Keep the lines of communication open with your family, monitor the use of digital devices and call the police if you do become a victim of these crimes.