New York City is spending more than $4 million to enhance the Manhattan district attorney's efforts to combat computer crime, a growing problem that has affected thousands, including one of the city's prosecutors and a mayoral contender, officials announced Tuesday.
Identity theft and other computer-aided crimes are a growing concern for prosecutors, and digital detective skills are becoming part of many other cases, DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said as he and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced the plan to outfit a new cybercrime lab.
While announcing the upgrade, Vance and Quinn revealed that they are two of three elected city officials who have had their information stolen online.
Vance said he was reviewing documents in an online theft case when he spotted his own name and Social Security number on the list of identities that had been endangered. Less than two weeks ago, he noticed several charges to his credit card that he had not made.
In Quinn's case, someone charged an expensive one-way airline ticket to her card for a flight she never took. Since credit card companies can't be expected to review every individual bill item by item, these city officials, who themselves understand the dangers of identity theft, are taking charge by upgrading the cyber-crime lab with the latest in technological advances.
In an era of smartphones and social media, "nearly every case we prosecute — financial fraud, terrorism, even street crimes — depends upon the resources and expertise" of some 50 Manhattan prosecutors, analysts and examiners who specialize in working with technology, Vance said.
Their targets have ranged from an alleged child-pornography ring to a trio of men accused of planting hidden video cameras and other technology to steal passwords — and nearly $300,000 — from ATM users. Meanwhile, the group also works on such projects as tracking an accused murderer's whereabouts through cellphone signals or scouring social networks for posts that show suspects boasting about their gang affiliations or posing with guns.
Manhattan prosecutors work on about 1,000 cellphones a year and considerably more computers, and the numbers are rising, the DA's office said. It also investigates about 200 to 300 new ID theft cases each month.
The new plan doesn't call for increasing the staff. It is designed instead to build and equip the lab, which officials say will enable the unit to do more work more efficiently. For example, it will have an entire room outfitted for cellphone analysis that is now done on one piece of equipment.
The City Council put $4.2 million in this year's budget for the project.
"As criminals are becoming increasingly high-tech, so is law enforcement," Quinn said Tuesday.
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