Bogus e-mail crimes becoming more common

Published 5:17 pm Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The recent arrest of a Vincent woman accused of sending e-mails about a fake assault at a Hoover business sheds light on an issue that law enforcement agencies and communities now have to face.

Though Jamica Deandra Willis, 26, did not file a traditional police report about an assault at a convenience store on John Hawkins Parkway, her alleged e-mail is classified as making a false report to law enforcement – a misdemeanor charge. Willis is being held in the Hoover City Jail on $1,000 bond.

“As we move into the electronic era, some things may have to change in the law because the laws were written before e-mail was widely used,” said Capt. Jim Coker of the Hoover Police Department.

Coker said the assault e-mail sent panic throughout the community, and citizens flooded the department with calls. Hoover Police later discovered three versions of the e-mail, likely the result of recipients who forwarded the message to others with additional false information.

“There have been at least two other incidents like these that have really cost us time and effort,” Coker said. “It doesn’t take long for these e-mails to grow.”

Coker added, ”It’s extremely irresponsible to forward these things. Some of them are amazing. We had one going around about gangsters hiding under your car and slashing your ankles with razor blades. People will believe stuff like that.”

Another example occurred back in March, when an e-mail circulated about an Oak Mountain fourth-grader being molested inside the Carmike Movie Theatre at The Summit shopping center. The e-mail also stated the police told the fourth-grader’s family that five similar incidents had been reported at the shopping center.

Birmingham Police determined the report was false following an investigation. Sgt. Johnny Smith, Birmingham Police spokesperson, agrees forwarding the e-mail to others only worsens the problem.

“Not only did (the e-mail) spread fear and hurt that business, it also hurt the entire shopping center,” Smith said.

Coker and Smith said people who receive suspicious e-mails about crimes should contact their respective law enforcement agency before spreading the word to neighbors.

“Any concern about public safety is our business, and the community is part of the answer for public safety,” Coker said.