Cyber-Crimes Task Force Braces for Offense Increase

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COLUMBIA - According to Boone County's Cyber Crime Task Force, cyber crime has become an issue on more than just personal computers. Detectives said offenders are using cell phones more frequently to try to scam bank members.

Mid-Missouri residents have experienced these scams firsthand.

Ben Licklider said he received a text message in 2009 that seemed suspicious.

"My bank had never ever texted me before," said Ben Licklider, a Columbia resident. "I got a text message that said ‘there's been a problem with your account, and we need you to send us your social security number and your checking account number.''

Licklider said his dad called him soon after receiving the text, warning him about a bank scam that was happening around the state.

The bank also sent out an e-mail to all its members, which said officials were aware of the issue, and not to respond to any text messages claiming to be the bank.

Since then, Licklider said he hasn't received any scams as serious, but he has gotten other text messages and e-mails trying to scam him.

"I think it is getting to be more serious of a problem," Licklider said. "More technology, there are going to be more ways for people to access different things."

The Boone County Cyber Crimes Task Force works to prevent and solve online crimes. But bank scams are not its top priority.

"The vast majority of what we do is Internet crimes against children," said Detective Andy Anderson.

The task force is grant-funded. Anderson said the current granters asked the force to focus on crimes against children. This includes offenses such as child pornography, enticement against children, and child prostitution.

Grants come from different sources every year. This year the Missouri Department of Public Safety is offering grant money, but Governor Nixon first had to approve the grant before the task force could apply.

"The governor didn't sign the bill that allowed the grant funding to go through until really, really, really late," said Anderson. "Everybody was pretty rushed on getting the grant out."

Anderson said typically grants begin in June, but the Department of Public Safety's grant probably won't be approved until September.

Even without that grant money, Anderson expects investigations to continue pretty smoothly because there is county support.

"The state grant we get is a reimbursement-type grant," Anderson said. "So our county has to be willing to put out the money initially anyway, and then get reimbursed for it."

Anderson said the force has most of the equipment it needs, but may be lacking in manpower to take on the jobs. Five people make up the task force that serves seven Mid-Missouri counties.

"We're doing really good on equipment, but we need more people desperately, and I don't see any extra money in the future that's going to help us with that," Anderson said.

Anderson said the task force has worked well over 800 cases since it began. He said there are a lot more crimes the team could investigate, but they're restricted because of the small team.