The New York Criminal Law Blog

NYPD Uses Facebook to Catch Criminals; Here's How They Can Do It

A guy walks into a bar. He has too many drinks and starts telling his friends about a murder that he committed. One of the friends rats him out. That's fair, right? What if the friend was never a friend at all? What if he was an undercover cop? That's also presumably legal.

Extrapolate that onto the present-day Internet. For years, cops have posed as cyber-Lolitas to catch pedophiles. No one protested, except the pedophiles. Now, they're taking it further and some departments, the NYPD included, are monitoring suspects Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Anyone with half a brain would expect that, right? True, but most criminals are stupid. Here's where a little social engineering can come into play. Here is how the NYPD might do it:

Step 1: Create a Fake Profile

Men are statistically more likely to commit crimes than women. Men are also suckers for a little appeal to the prurient interest. For anyone seeking access to someone's Facebook profile, it's as simple as a little cleavage. A cute girl wants to add you as a friend. Do you accept?

For more information on what not to do when creating a fake profile, check out Barracuda Security's study on fake profiles and their amazing infographic. Avoid the trends and your trickery might just work.

Step 2: Befriend the Suspect's Friends

Most of us have already been added by a spammer. We know better than to add a complete stranger on Facebook. It usually ends badly. But, not everyone is social-media savvy. If you befriend 100 of the suspect's closest friends, a few are bound to accept.

Protip: don't add randomly. If you are friends with three of the person's high school friends, two from college, that homeless dude with an iPhone that added him, and his mother, that might tip him off to the ruse. Look for friends with common schools. Schools mean parties which means alcohol and faded memories.

Step 3: Add the Suspect as a Friend

This is the big payoff. When that cute woman adds you as a friend, and she's friends with six of your law school buddies, you begin to wonder: "have I met her?" You want to now, that's for sure. Friend added. Now, the new "friend" can look at your pictures, wall posts, and any other information that you've made available. Plus, at least one federal judge has ruled that there is no expectation of privacy when you put information on social networking sites, and therefore, cops can snoop.

Is this the exact method followed by the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies? We're not sure. What we do know is that they admit to using fake Facebook profiles for investigatory purposes. This method can also work for employers, creepy ex-girlfriends, and that guy that pants heavily next to you on the subway.

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