Five Things Dumb Criminals Do Online
FIVE THINGS DUMB CRIMINALS DO ONLINE (A THRILLER WRITER’S GUIDE)
While conducting research for my novel, The Advocate’s Daughter (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur, March 22, 2016), I came across several reports about criminals who were caught because of their Google search history or social media posts. I wasn’t surprised at the rise of digital evidence used against defendants. But I was taken aback by how frequently criminals are caught because of their own ineptitude.
Here are five things dumb criminals do online.
1. Googling how to commit the crime.
No, you say. No one is dense enough to use their own computer or phone to search how to murder someone? But it happens all the time. Spend five minutes online and you’ll find several examples, including the couple who allegedly murdered their friend in her sleep after Googling “ways to kill people in their sleep,” or the genius convicted of solicitation-of-murder after searching “mercenary for hire.” But it’s not just murderers. Consider the couple who allegedly robbed a Colorado bank after Googling “how people got caught after bank robberies.” (My favorite part of that capper is that they’d just moved to Colorado “because of legalized marijuana.”).
2. Doing vanity searches about the crime.
We get it, you’re a criminal, you probably didn’t get the attention you needed as a kid. But when you search for information about your crime before it’s even been reported, you kind of show your hand. Like the art thief in this New York Times story who was arrested for stealing a Salvador Dalí from a Manhattan gallery after he “searched the Internet for reports about the robbery after it took place but before the story became news.” Really?
3. Bringing a (trackable) smartphone to the scene of the crime.
If you’ve ever watched a single episode of Dateline you know that the first thing cops do to check an alibi is to track your phone. Yet time and again, the phone puts the defendant at the scene. Like the guy who reportedly was convicted for killing his friend and dumping the body 60 miles away, after cell phone tower pings placed him at the dumpsite. It didn’t help that the suspect’s iPhone flashlight app had been used around the time the victim had been buried in a shallow grave. An obvious question is why not leave the phone at home? Are criminals really planning on making a call or posting on Facebook during their crimes? Oh wait, they are:
4. Posting on Facebook during the crime.
I’d like to say that it is the rarest of dummies who breaks into someone’s house, burglarizes the place, then uses the victim’s computer to post on Facebook. But it happens over and over and over and over again.
5. Bragging about the crime on social media.
Stupidity isn’t limited to Facebook. There’s the young woman who bragged about her bank robbery on YouTube, the guy who did the same on Instagram (what is it with the bank robbers?), the gangsters who boasted on Twitter, and the show-off thieves on Myspace. (On the last one, I don’t know what’s more surprising—the admission of the crime or that someone’s still on Myspace).
Thriller writers are always looking for cutting edge ways that law enforcement solve murders and fight crime. And authors want their good guys—and their bad guys—to have guile, intellect, and ingenuity. The social media age is making it harder to find inspiration from real life. In fact, the only people who may be more annoying than criminals on social media . . . are writers.
Anthony Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, and the author of The Advocate’s Daughter (St. Martin’s Press, March 22, 2016), a family thriller set in the insular world of the U.S. Supreme Court.