Small Business Owners Track Down Dumb Criminals Online

This post originally appeared on Techdirt

Looks like cops aren’t the only ones looking online for evidence of crime. Just in the past week, we’ve seen two stories of small businesses using the web to do some detective work of their own. Canadian retailers in Cape Breton are hiring loss preventional specialists who are making use of social networking tools to track down shoplifters, finding dumb criminals bragging about items they’ve stolen on YouTube and then using Facebook to help identify the thieves. When a shoplifter has been identified, that information is shared with other members in the retail association who may choose to block that person from their stores. One of the mall owners interviewed also notes in the comments that Facebook is especially useful in checking for potential accomplices (friends who were there at the time of the theft). Despite the effectiveness of using the internet as a crime fighting tool, politicians elsewhere have been trying to get evidence of crime removed from YouTube even though it helps police — and now retailers — to catch dumb criminals.

The second story involves an Australian restaurant owner who tracked down bill dodgers using Facebook. The group of five diners stepped outside for a smoke and never returned after racking up a bill of $340 USD. Restaurant staff recalled that one of the diners had inquired about a former waitress when the group arrived. They contacted the waitress, searched a few names on Facebook and came across a profile belonging to one of the diners, who was pictured with his girlfriend (also in the group). Facebook showed that they worked at a restaurant down the street. They contacted the manager and, within hours, the diner returned to pay the bill (along with a generous tip and an apology). Later, the restaurant was notified that the man and his girlfriend had both been fired. No criminal charges were filed.

Whether it’s dumb criminals who can’t resist bragging or sloppy criminals giving away clues to their identity, the web makes it a lot easier for law enforcement and victims to track them down.

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