Columbus resident Todd Clardy found himself behind bars Saturday when deputies with the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office arrested him on Nashville Ferry Road. His charges: a slew of misdemeanors and felony posting messages electronically with intent to cause injury.
Clardy, 26, of 600 7th Ave. North, had a bond set at $5,000 for the felony charge, which stemmed from about a month ago when he posted an explicit picture of someone he knew on a social media site, LCSO Capt. Ryan Rickert said. The felony carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, if convicted.
Stories like Clardy’s are becoming more common as technology progresses, Rickert said.
“Overall, cyber crimes have continued to rise because of their accessibility,” he said. “And a lot of these different sites really don’t impose any kind of restrictions on how you set up a page. So those things are on the rise for sure.”
LCSO sees about 10 to 15 cyber crimes per month, he said though they’re not all felonies. Cyber crimes can be anything from posting an explicit picture of a child — an automatic felony, Rickert said — to constantly sending harassing text messages.
Generally, cyberstalking involves people posting threats or nude photos with the intention of harassing or intimidating the victim, said Assistant Police Chief Fred Shelton with the Columbus Police Department. For example, he said, a scorned boyfriend will post an inappropriate photo of his ex-girlfriend on Facebook to embarrass her. Or someone could threaten to burn down a victim’s house — and then post a picture of the house.
“If it does happen, (people) need to report it,” he said. “Just don’t take chances. Don’t say, ‘Well, they’re not going to really do anything.’ … Make sure it’s on file in case something else happens.”
In less serious cases of cyberstalking, the suspect’s behavior has to be repetitive for the crime to qualify as harassment, Shelton said. The text messages have to be constant, the emails have to keep coming or the suspect has to keep posting photos to social media. Luckily for the victims, it’s pretty easy to prove whether a stalker or someone else has been harassing them — as long as they haven’t deleted the threatening or harassing messages, the evidence is usually right on their phones.
“People are actually bringing their cell phones to court to show, ‘This person said this’ or ‘This person said that,'” Shelton said. “Or they do a screenshot of the post or the picture or whatever and bring it to court.”
Most of the cases the CPD sees are local, Shelton said.
For Rickert’s part, that makes them easier for law enforcement to deal with since problems investigating or prosecuting cyber crimes tend to involve jurisdiction. Social media sites and other websites are often outside the jurisdiction of local agencies, so law enforcement at the state or federal level have to get involved.
“Most (sites) are fairly law enforcement friendly, but there is a process,” Rickert said. “Sometimes a justice court warrant won’t work or a justice court subpoena won’t work. We have to do a county or a state search warrant which takes a little bit more time to collect.”
It’s also hard to catch suspects out of the state, Shelton said, particularly if the victim only knows them online and can’t give investigators concrete addresses or other identifying information.
The other difficulty is that crime itself keeps evolving as communication technology advances, Rickert said. And it often takes time for laws to catch up.
“I think our legislators are doing a good job of trying to react to what’s going on, but a lot of times they don’t know the specifics,” he said. “So they’ll write a law that is effective but not as effective as it could be. And that’s where they really start to hone in. It just takes time sometimes.”
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of cyberstalking is to be cautious giving out personal information, Shelton said. Don’t give phone numbers or email addresses to a brand new acquaintance.
Those who do become victims can often repel the harassment by changing their phone numbers or email addresses, he said. Facebook, too, has privacy settings where users can block people from sending messages.