Cybercrime: Police investigated 232 online threats of violence last year

232 cases of 'insults, threats and private violence' were investigated by the cybercrime unit in 2016 and over 877 cases of 'fraud, forgery and misappropriation' 

The police’s cybercrime unit investigated 232 cases of “insults, threats and private violence” in 2016, making it the second most frequently investigated type of crime, according to data provided to MaltaToday by the unit. 

In total, 877 cases of online crimes were investigated with “fraud, forgery and misappropriation”, topping the list.

“In 2003 we started with some 50 cases, an average of maybe one case a week, nowadays we’re speaking about an average of two to three cases every single day,” said Inspector Timothy Zammit, who heads the cyber crime unit. 

The data shows all forms of cyber crime increasing since 2003, with cases of fraud and forgery, insults and threats, and computer misuse increasing most rapidly in recent years. In 2016, they made up of 83% of all cases investigated by the cyber crime unit. 

Zammit explained that in many cases, cyber crime concerned the standard type of criminality observed in Malta, except that in such cases, they were transposed onto an online platform. As such, he said the police received many complaints by people claiming to have been threatened or insulted online, with authorities obliged to investigate every complaint by members of the public. 

Last week, MaltaToday reported that Malta topped the list of per capita requests made by local enforcement authorities to service providers such as Facebook and Google. However, Zammit said that such requests made up less than half of the total cases investigated by the police. 

Using internet fraud as an example, he said that perpetrators of such crimes sometimes registered an internet domain themselves, purely for them to be able to send out malicious emails requesting users’ data. 

“For example someone posing as an employee of Maltapost might be using an email address such as [email protected] - the spelling mistake there is intentional - rather it is intended to make the receiver think it is coming from the “real” Maltapost,” said Zammit, adding that previously fraudsters might have used free email accounts. 

According to Zammit, Malta’s small size meant the police had to process more cases in which one person would have insulted a second individual, but on the other hand, he said that it allowed the police to better deal with issues such as cyber-bullying. 

“We don’t have thousands of cases so we can give the individual attention required in these cases,” said Zammit, insisting that, above all, the unit did not want those willing to commit crimes online to think that Malta was some sort of “free for all”.