How to Protect Yourself from Three Popular Cyber Crimes

Major companies like Target and the Home Depot have suffered some of the most severe cyber attacks in the past several years, but they’re not the only ones who can fall victim to online criminals.

These are the three most common cyber crimes targeting individuals this year, and how to avoid them:

Mobile Monsters

The Scam:

An estimated $22 billion will be spent on mobile e-commerce in 2015 as retailers, restaurants, banks and more develop mobile apps that allow users to connect their accounts to the app for quick, easy payments using their smartphones.

These apps create an easy, time-saving way to shop and bank online, but experts say that convenience is the biggest threat.

“The real concerns I have about mobile involve consumers getting used to a whole new way of paying for things, which always opens the door for confusion and scams,” said consumer protection expert Bob Sullivan.

With so many people drawn to the ease of mobile payments, cyber criminals are finding ways to scam individuals by creating fake mobile payment apps or hacking into legitimate accounts.

The Solution:

To stay safe from getting scammed by apps and other mobile purchasing options, stay vigilant about what you’re downloading, and don’t get too comfortable with easy mobile purchases.

It’s best to only download the official app offered by a retailer or your bank, and stay on top of your transactions so that you can catch any irregular charges or payments as soon as possible. If you choose to use a third-party app, make sure to create a unique password and opt for multiple security settings.

ATM Dangers

The Scam:

Withdrawing money from an ATM has become increasingly more dangerous, with a 174 percent increase in successful debit-card compromises at ATMs on bank property since 2014, and a 317 percent increase at non-bank ATMs.

Cyber hackers are acquiring card information from ATMs by hacking into large databases to empty accounts, shop online or create fake credit cards, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The Solution:

There is no concrete solution to this cyber crime yet, so it might be best to avoid ATMs altogether.

If you must withdraw money from an ATM, only use machines at your bank and always cover the keypad when entering your pin number.

Service Fraud

The Scam:

This type of cyber con-artist aims to hit you where you’re most vulnerable, either offering too good to be true deals or scaring you into paying a fine you don’t owe.

For example, here in Arizona, temperatures are guaranteed to skyrocket come summertime, leaving thousands of residents dependent on air conditioning. Cyber criminals are known to pose as your electric company, sending out emails offering services for irresistibly low prices or sending threats to shut off your electric if you don’t pay a certain fee.

The Solution:

These emails can be convincing, but don’t be caught off guard by official-sounding language, use of familiar logos or low prices.

If you receive this type of email, look for details that might be off. The colors used in the logo might be a few shades different than your company’s actual logo or the email may not address you by name – these are just a few warning signs to look out for.

If everything else about the email is normal, but the prices offered are extremely low, do your research. Look around online for the same offer or call the company directly to be sure.

Can Facebook Get You Arrested? A Supreme Court Update

In the Supreme Court’s first opinion regarding social media, the majority held that posting a threat online isn’t a federal crime without proof of the person’s mental state.

This opinion was a result of the Supreme Court case Elonis V. United States, in which Anthony Douglas Elonis was arrested for posting rap lyrics on Facebook that contained threatening statements.

Elonis violated a federal criminal statute that makes it a crime to transmit in interstate commerce “any communication containing any threat . . . to injure the person of another,” The National Law Review reports.

He was convicted on multiple counts for threats, which he challenged in the Supreme Court based on his First Amendment rights. Elonis said that posting the graphic, violent lyrics about his wife, an FBI agent and children was a therapeutic and artistic expression, not an actual threat.

Recently, The Supreme Court reversed his convictions using the principle that “wrongdoing must be conscious to the criminal,” meaning that the mental state of the person involved matters, not just the authenticity of the threat, when deciding if the posts are a criminal offense.

This ruling does not touch on the intent behind posting threats online, which makes social media cases like this more of a criminal law issue than a First Amendment issue.

With this new ruling in place, could your Facebook posts still get you arrested?

Yes, you could still be arrested for posting threats on Facebook or any other online or social media platform. If your mentality was to cause harm and your threats were genuine you could be arrested.

Also, if you incriminate yourself online or your social media account’s location settings, online relationships or posts connect you to a crime, you could be arrested.

However, when it comes to posting threatening messages online, that act is not a federal crime without proof of your mental state.

FBI: Charleston Church Shooter Shouldn’t Have Passed Background Check

The FBI reports that Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof should not have been allowed to purchase the gun he used during the attack.

FBI Director James Comey said Roof was arrested for weeks before the shooting, but he was still able to purchase a gun because the paperwork for the offense was incomplete and inaccurate at the time, according to the Associated Press.

Those who wish to purchase a gun in South Carolina must undergo an FBI background check, however, if state and federal records are not up to date at the time of the background check, anyone who shouldn’t normally be able to buy a gun, like Roof, can slip through the cracks.

The FBI examiner who conducted Roof’s background check didn’t see that he had previously been arrested for admitting to possessing drugs due to issues on the rap sheet.

This arrest should have disqualified him from purchasing a gun, according to FBI rules, but he was able to get the gun within three days because the examiner didn’t have sufficient information to deny him.

An error like this reveals huge issues in state gun laws and the background check process, but is South Carolina the only state where this mistake could happen? What are the gun laws in Arizona?

Similar to South Carolina, those who wish to purchase a gun in Arizona must also undergo an FBI background check since neither state is a point of contact for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database, which would allow the state to conduct its own background check using state and federal records and databases.

If the person already has an Arizona state permit to purchase or possess a firearm, they may be exempt from a background check. Even if they have committed crimes what would make them ineligible to possess a gun, they may be protected by their old permit if the state doesn’t update its records before they can make a purchase.

This means that yes, someone like Roof who is considered a prohibited possessor and shouldn’t be allowed to possess or purchase any type of firearm could still be able to get a gun in Arizona.

Don’t Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer Without These 4 Traits

What should you look for when hiring a criminal defense lawyer?  Don’t hire anyone unless they have these four traits:

Experience as a Prosecutor
Your criminal defense lawyer should be well experienced in Prosecuting. It’s crucial for them to know what happens on the other side, so they are better equipped to secure you the best deal possible.

Communicates Consistently With You From Day One
Depending on the type of attorney, communication with their client may not be one their top concerns. This is not okay. It’s imperative that your criminal defense lawyer is in constant contact with you about every aspect of your case.

Focuses and Actively Seeks The Best Options For You
You should expect the best deal from your criminal defense attorney and they should provide it. This is both a personality and business trait you must assess from the beginning. No matter what type of result the outcome has your attorney, they should be entirely set on creating the legal options for you.

Includes and Works With Your Family
A good attorney will act like your family and friends are important to you but a great attorney will strive to include their options and feelings in the decisions that he or she is helping you to make.

ACLU First Amendment Issues Blocks Arizona “Revenge Porn” Law

A district court judge has blocked an Arizona “revenge porn” law due to concerns about restrictions it may place on First Amendment rights.

An agreement was reached by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to prohibit prosecutors from enforcing the law so that publishers, booksellers, librarians and photographers are allowed to use nude photos, for which they may not have written consent, when they represent “newsworthy, artistic, and historical speech,” AZ Family reports.Arizona Revenge Porn Law Blocked

Previously, prosecutors were allowed to go after “revenge porn” offenders, but these effort have been stopped by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that the statute was too broad and violated First Amendment rights like free speech.

In 2014, the Arizona Legislature passed statute A.R.S. 13-1425, which addressed the unlawful distribution of these types of images. Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, sponsored the bill in hopes of making the distribution of nude photos of a person without their written consent a felony offense.

With this new agreement in place, how should these types of cases be prosecuted? Is free speech more important than a person’s right to privacy?

These are both questions that will have to be answered from case to case as victims of “revenge porn” seek legal help. However, the public should be able to protect both their First Amendment and privacy rights without one being favored over the other.

With technology and social media reaching new heights every day, “revenge porn” is developing into a serious problem, especially as it becomes easier to take, send and distribute photos online in a matter of seconds.

By blocking prosecutors from enforcing the “revenge porn” law altogether, victims of this offense must face humiliation, destroyed intimate relationships as well as potentially limited professional and educational opportunities.

Mesnard introduced a revised version of the law in response to the ACLU’s lawsuit, but it failed in the Senate. He plans to try again during the next legislative session with new elements that could take care of the First Amendment complaints.

The revisions would require prosecutors to prove malicious intent was behind the posting and that the person in the photos had an expectation of privacy when they were taken.

DCS Efforts to Improve are Overshadowed by Severe Child Abuse Cases in Arizona


Despite efforts to overhaul the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS) for the better, two cases of severe child abuse involving malnourishment, neglect and death have made headlines in the Valley recently.

In late May, 3-year-old Alexandra Velazco was found dead in her home in Surprise despite several interactions with DCS before she was even born.

In May 2011, Alexandra and her mother, Rosemary Velazco, both tested positive for amphetamines. She was removed from her parents care for a year after her birth until both Rosemary and Alexandra’s father, Carlos Cruz, completed substance abuse treatment and parenting classes in April 2012. A few months later in July, the case was closed.

However, complaints were made to DCS again earlier this year, and agents removed an infant from their home not knowing that Alexandra and her 6-year-old brother were living there. The two were kept out of sight in a bedroom.

When Alexandra was found, she weighed only 15 pounds, was covered in bruises, lacerations and showed signs of sexual abuse, The Arizona Republic reports.

Joylynne Giebel is another example of a child who died under the watch of DCS. On June 5, DCS got a call that Giebel, 21-months-old, was dead in her home in Mesa. She died six months after DCS received its fifth call for complaints that her stepfather, Andrew Isaacs, abused and neglected her.

She was found with bruises on her face and body, internal trauma and three broken ribs, according to the DCS report.

While this type of extreme abuse most likely isn’t an everyday case for DCS workers, reports indicate that abuse and neglect aren’t uncommon in the state.

Recent data from DCS reports that one out of every 100 children in Arizona is in a form of foster or out-of-home care, and a 2014 comparison of each child protection system in the state by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked Arizona’s system 46th in the nation.

Earlier this year, a coalition led by the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest against DCS and Department of Health Services filed a federal class-action lawsuit due to the maintenance of a “dangerous, severely deficient foster care system,” Phoenix New Times reports.

To make matters worse, DCS is also under pressure to take care of 13,000 cases that have been considered inactive and others that haven’t been investigated at all in addition to the active cases workers attend to every day.

Arizona has been working for over a year to improve the system since former Governor Jan Brewer abolished Child Protective Services for a new, cabinet-level system.

Former DCS director Charles Flanagan and current director Greg McKay have made efforts to correct the system by fixing the child abuse hotline, increase staffing and improving the quality of foster families, but the deaths of Alexandra Velazco and Joylynne Giebel bring to light that these changes haven’t been significant enough to overcome the shadow surrounding DCS and child abuse in the state.

Fraud and Identity Theft Crimes are Circulating in Arizona

If it seems too good, or in this case suspicious, to be true, it probably is. That’s the guideline the Arizona Attorney General recommends to prevent getting scammed by telemarketers, sales representatives, and recently, fraudulent insurance companies.

Police in Lake Havasu City arrested Robert Musich, 46, who is accused of scamming hundreds of people in Arizona, California and Nevada by sending fake invoices of $413.11 for fire-insurance inspections that never happened, The Arizona Republic Reports.

RMZ Fire Safety is the phony company Musich is suspected of using to charge people for permits and inspections, which would normally be paid to the city, from an address that turned out to be a dental office in Phoenix.

Forgery, fraud and identity theft offenses are often times punished severely under Arizona law, which means Musich could face heavy fines, mandatory jail time or a lengthy term of supervised probation.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich issued a warning that this type of invoice scam is circulating, and that businesses should be cautious of fraudulent companies.

The top ten most common scams in the state identified by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office are fraudulent car sales and auto repairs, work-at-home business schemes, fake prize scams, charity fraud, fake internet auctions, mortgage foreclosure “rescue” schemes, quick cash loans, telemarketing ripoffs and identity theft.

When it comes to identity theft, Arizona has the highest rate of complaints in the country, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Other scams that have made their way into Arizona include the text message phishing scam, which asks people via text to enter their personal information to reactivate a bank account, and the “grandparent” scam, which targets seniors by faking a call from a grandchild in need of money in an urgent situation.

To protect yourself from dangerous scams, Brnovich offers these guidelines:

  • Research businesses for complaints online or call the Better Business Bureau for help
  • Work with a financial advisor, accountant or knowledgeable friend or relative who can help you research whether a business is reputable or a purchase or investment is a good decision before you make a purchase.
  • Remember that most work-at-home business opportunities never make money for the purchasers, only for the sellers. If it were that easy or profitable, the telemarketers would do the work-at-home business themselves.
  • Keep your financial information to yourself. Never give out credit card, checking or savings account information to anyone who calls you, as it is not difficult for someone with this data to draft money from your account.
  • Ask the sales agent to mail you information about their product or services before you decide to buy. Legitimate companies should be happy to mail you a contract to review or a brochure about their product before you give them any payment information.
  • Place your name on the national Do Not Call List.
  • Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Hang up. A telemarketer has no right to your time or your money.

A Look at the ‘New Nationwide Crime Wave’

Should America be preparing for a national spike in crime?

In addition to what seems like a never ending stream of reports of violent incidents between police and citizens, community unrest and protests in the wake of heavily publicized cases like that of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, large cities like New York have reported an increase in violent crimes and gun violence.Criminal Charges

Although there’s no doubt these incidents have shocked the nation and certain crimes have increased in some parts of the country, the question now is whether these events are a reflection of crime rates for the US as a whole.

Heather Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, wrote an op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal called, “The New Nationwide Crime Wave,” which generated a significant amount of buzz about crime rates around the country.

One of the most controversial points made in the article is that police are at greater risk for attack, and are afraid to serve their communities due to heavy criticism of their professional judgment when it comes to using force on the job.

She explains that the deaths of “Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., in July 2014, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in August 2014 and Freddie Gray in Baltimore last month—have led to riots, violent protests and attacks on the police.”

Additionally, In New York, where there has been an impressive decline in crime over the past 20 years, crimes and homicides involving guns have increased. There have been 439 shootings so far this year, which is 20 percent higher than the number of shootings recorded in the same period in 2013.

Mac Donald suggests that this increase is a warning sign for a crime wave that is set to sweep across the rest of the country.

Although the information in Mac Donald’s article may be true, several other sources quickly refuted her claims, asserting that a new crime wave does not exist and her story is more alarmist than it is accurate.

Radley Balko, a criminal justice blogger for the Washington Post, countered McDonald’s claims with an article of his own a week later.

Balko argues that while anger against police brutality may be the cause of increased violence in cities like Ferguson and Baltimore, they are certainly not the only issues involved.

“Two of the factors that cause homicides to soar in American cities are a sense of a loss of government legitimacy, and a loss of a feeling of belonging among outcast or historically oppressed groups,” Balko said, citing Randolph Roth’s, American Homicide.

When it comes to police homicides, Balko explains that several officers were tragically lost due to violence in Ferguson and Baltimore; however, those were isolated incidents that don’t represent the rest of the country’s more peaceful efforts.

Ultimately, Balko argues that Mac Donald’s points could prove to be true when the crime reports for 2015 are available, but for now, there’s not enough evidence to support such alarming claims.

Instead, her article is a distraction from the more important issue at hand, which is the relationship between police agencies and the communities they serve.

“There’s some data suggesting that the 20-year decline in violent crime may have hit bottom. In a country of 380 million people, you aren’t going to reduce crime to zero. In some cities, there have been some recent increases in some crimes, just as there were all throughout the crime drop,” he said.

Police Criticized for Taser Use

Tasers are used by 15,000 law enforcement and military bodies in the U.S. as an alternative to lethal weapons when force is necessary to subdue a person in a threatening situation.Taser

However, recent criticism of police use of force has led to the scrutiny of police use of Tasers, and whether they are actually safer than guns and other weapons.

When fired, Tasers emit a 50,000-volt shock of electricity to the body, which overrides the central nervous system of whoever was struck, leading to an instant collapse as well as uncontrollable muscle contractions, according to a report by the Stanford Criminal Justice Center.

The fall, due to lack of muscle control, is often the cause of more serious injuries relating to the use of a Taser. In general, however, the company claims the shock doesn’t typically cause serious or lasting harm to the average person. Instead, the Taser International website says Tasers have saved more than 140,000 lives, and that injuries are reduced by up to 60 percent when alternative means of force are used.

This may not be true, however, for a significant number of people who are not considered average in terms of health.

For pregnant women and those who have certain health problems including cardiovascular issues, mental illness, heart conditions and high blood pressure, a Taser shock can cause serious injuries and death in some cases.

Dontay Ivy, an Albany man with heart problems and paranoid schizophrenia, died after being shot with a Taser and wrestling police to the ground earlier this year. The cause of death is still being investigated, but Ivy’s family plans to press charges for negligence, racial profiling and excessive force.

Others extreme cases, like that of South Carolina man Walter Scott, involve the use of a Taser in combination with other weapons as the cause of death. North Charleston police officer Michael Slager was fired and later charged with murder for using excessive force against Scott.

These cases bring into question whether Tasers are an acceptable method for police to control a situation, or if their use encourages unnecessary force.

Geoffrey P. Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina who researches police use of force, said in the New York Times that Tasers could be effective tools when used properly, but he cautioned that many officers in the United States had come to rely on them excessively.

“Officers need to be spending more time de-escalating situations, instead of resorting to the use of this very convenient tool,” said Emma Andersson, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “The jury’s still out on whether or not it’s lethal force, but it’s not nothing; it’s very dangerous.”

Others, like Taser International’s spokesman Steve Tuttle, who argues that they are no magic bullet, but they are “safe, effective and accountable” devices.

Currently, no extensive report on the use of Tasers exists, but it seems that all parties can agree that Tasers are dangerous, and must be used with caution. A guideline by the U.S. Justice Department from 2011 sets the standard, stating that Tasers are weapons, and should be used out of necessity, not convenience.

TSA Fails Most Undercover Safety Tests and Struggles to Identify Terrorists

How effective is airport security? According to recent tests by The Department of Homeland Security, TSA agents failed 95 percent of safety tests.

Recently, Homeland Security’s Red Teams, which are undercover groups of investigators, posed as passengers to challenge the TSA’s safety standards and test the effectiveness of their routines.TSA

Red Team agents found that the TSA failed 67 of 70 tests performed, in which investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through safety checkpoints.

In one test, an undercover was stopped by TSA agents after setting off a magnetometer alarm, but they failed to detect a fake explosive device taped to his back after both a screening and pat down.

To make matters worse, a recent audit reports that the TSA also failed to flag 73 airport workers with ties to terrorism.

The agency of course has a system for screening commercial airport workers, but only has access to a limited amount of terror-related information, making it easier for mistakes like this to happen.

The TSA doesn’t have access to the entire terrorist watchlist, and may not have an effective way of checking certain worker information including criminal history, legal work status and basic identification, CNN reports.

The White House responded to these findings, saying that Obama has confidence in the TSA despite the results of the Red Team’s tests.

“The president does continue to have confidence that the officers of the TSA do very important work that continues to protect the American people,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Officials representing Homeland Security insist that the nation’s airports are well protected with layers of security to enforce safe travel.

However, U.S. officials also admit that these results are disappointing and that changes have already been made at airports to address these vulnerabilities.