Saturday, January 30, 2010
Texas Man Arrested for "Spoofing"
Missouri City Police Department’s arrest of a Stafford man for Internet harassment and “spoofing” was the first of its kind in Texas using a new law that went into effect Sept. 1 of last year. The crime is so new that police had to call Austin to figure out how to get the charge entered into computers because a number had yet to be assigned.
Years ago, Missouri City police were also the first to charge someone with failure to register as a sex offender.
All of the benefits of technology also come with a price – for every new and innovative way discovered to communicate and do business, criminals will find new and innovative ways to use the technology for malicious purposes.
The Texas Legislature passed House Bill 2003 as an effort to keep up with how the Internet and electronic communication have changed the ways people can harass and possibly harm one another.
The new section in the penal code makes “Online Harassment” a crime, and deals with two separate issues.
The first makes it a third degree felony to use someone else’s identity to create a web page or message on a commercial social networking site without that person’s consent and with malicious intent. “Commercial Networking” includes Internet sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
The second section deals with what is called “spoofing,” now a Class A Misdemeanor. Spoofing is when someone sends an electronic message, such as an e-mail or an instant message, pretending to be someone else. If the intent of the message was to solicit a response from emergency personnel, it is a third degree felony.
Wesley Wittig, an assistant district attorney with the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office, said that prosecuting new crimes does not necessarily present any difficulties, as the law is clear on what constitutes each crime. The difference with new charges is that there is no history of rulings that attorneys can use for research when preparing.
Missouri City police charged 54-year-old Stafford resident John Johnson with Internet Harassment and spoofing earlier this month, after they say he set up a fake dating site account and posed as the victim while instant messaging.
Missouri City police were called by a nervous and scared 35-year-old Missouri City woman who told police she received a phone call from a strange man who told her he had just been to her house, and no one answered the door. He told her he even tried the front door, but it was locked.
She asked the stranger where she lived, and he gave her the correct address. She told him she didn’t know who he was, and he said he had been having Instant Messaging conversations with her on the computer after having met her on the Internet dating site Plenty of Fish. He told her she invited him over.
The victim knew nothing about the man, the site or the alleged conversations.
After investigating, police say Johnson set up a fake account on the dating site, complete with photos of the victim and her correct home address, cell phone number and location of her work. Johnson is the boyfriend of the victim’s boyfriend’s mother, who apparently wanted to end the relationship between her son and the victim.
It is still unclear who was pretending to be the victim during the online conversations.