Within 24 hours of the March 11 tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Internet thieves posted fake donation websites to aid the victims. Search engines, like Google and Yahoo, picked up these sites and included them in lists with legitimate donation addresses. Unsuspecting and generous citizens gave money, never realizing that invisible crooks were pocketing the donations.

This is but one example of more than 31,000 Internet-based crimes that occur every day here in Hawaii, according to expert witnesses who testified at a special Cybercrime Informational Briefing at the state Capitol.

As a retired Maui Police Department captain and co-founder of the Maui Gateway Internet service provider, I was honored to host this briefing to help our community better understand the scope and sophistication of cybercrime. It is clear, with cybercrime becoming more prevalent and dangerous, we must improve the laws that punish these types of crimes and we must make it easier to catch the criminals who perpetrate Internet-based crimes.

The term cybercrime covers a wide range of activities, including scams, financial fraud, identity theft, stalking, bullying, sexual enticement of children, impersonation, character assassination and terrorism.

Recently, three Oahu residents were swindled out of approximately $2,000 when they received emails that appeared to be from friends stating they were vacationing in a foreign country and had been robbed. The friend asked for money to be wired so they could get back to Honolulu. The person obliged, not realizing this was a scam perpetrated almost daily on unsuspecting computer users.

Software today allows crooks to use another person’s email address without that person knowing. According to data provided at our briefing, for as little as $160 you can purchase software known as malware, which will infect up to 1,000 computers. For $100, a thief can send spam to 1 million personal computers. Every day, botnets that link millions of individual machines can launch massive attacks seeking to penetrate your computer and obtain your password or bank account numbers.

We can take steps to minimize the amount of personal information we put on Facebook, MySpace and other social networks. Changing your password regularly is a good idea. Experts advise everyone to install firewalls and virus detection software immediately. When in doubt, do not open an attachment or click on an email from someone you do not know. Report problems to your Internet service provider, and if you become a victim notify the police.

Internet service providers also need to take on greater responsibility to notify customers when their systems are hacked or personal data is disclosed. Given the global reach of the Internet, it is important for ISPs located outside of Hawaii to respond promptly to warrants, subpoenas, wiretap requests and other law enforcement search tools that are used to track down computer crimes. We need legislation to make sure this is the case.

As a legislator and a former police captain, I pledge to work with my colleagues to strengthen Hawaii statutes that will help law enforcement officials catch and prosecute these types of crimes. Among the suggestions we received at the briefing were recommendations that companies be required to retain logs of computer transactions for a set period of time to facilitate law enforcement investigations.

I look forward to working with my colleagues in the state Legislature to improve Hawaii’s laws along these lines and to make it easier for our police and prosecutors to find these digital thieves guilty. I want to hear from anyone who has been a victim or has recommendations to better protect all of us who live in Hawaii. Send email to repfontaine@capitol.hawaii.gov.

I look forward to working with you on this critically important issue in the 2012 legislative session.

* George Fontaine represents District 11 (Kihei, Makena, Wailea) in the Hawaii House of Representatives. He is a retired 25-year veteran of the Maui Police Department. He lives in Kihei.

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