Facebook Hacker Fakes Suicide of Gold Star Mom

Although he said that in some areas pranksters who cry wolf could be charged with wasting police resources, those statutes don't exist in Surprise.

He said the case isn't officially closed but is considered "inactive." Although his colleagues have reached a standstill, he said they've notified the FBI and are working with them to see what could be prosecuted at the federal level.

Doug Sylvester, a professor at the Sandra Day O'Conner College of Law at Arizona State University, agreed that a state criminal statute would likely not apply in this case, but said that under federal law hacking into someone else's account is a criminal offense.

"Criminal law assigns itself to the most egregious results" he said.

But in cases that don't result in physical harm or financial losses, the lack of political will means they're left to the civil side.

Cyber Harassment Happens More Frequently Than People Think

Although he wasn't familiar with the details of Lee's case, he said she could claim psychological and emotional distress in a civil case.

Still, some cyber crime experts say that though these kinds of attacks happen more frequently than people think, more training is needed to educate law enforcement about the laws surrounding personal cyber attacks.

"A lot of law enforcement, they just don't understand what the panoply of laws are," said Parry Aftab, the executive director of WiredSafety.org and cyber abuse expert. "All these fake, 'I'm going to commit suicide' things happen often. In chat rooms, on social networks, they happen in interactive games."

Sometimes the fraudsters fake suicide because they think it's a funny joke, other times it's because they're emotionally unbalanced or have a vendetta against the person, she said.

Although local privacy laws vary, Aftab said people in Lee's position could bring civil charges for theft, fraud or defamation but emphasized that hacking into another's account (be it e-mail, a social network or other service) is a crime.

Depending on how long identifying information is retained by the online company, she said, the hacker can be traced through information like an IP (Internet protocol) address, which is the unique number assigned to each computer.

To improve their online safety, Aftab advises people to assign a unique password to each of their online accounts and use unusual character or word combinations in each password.

As for local law enforcement's decision to close Lee's case, Aftab acknowledged that she doesn't know all of the facts, but said, "I think they may have closed it too soon because it is a very important issue that they need to make clear should not be repeated and needs to be treated with the most serious reaction possible."

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