If you fell victim to cybercrime today, would you know how to report it? A new survey produced by my company, blockquiry, paints a worrying picture: A staggering 56% of victims didn’t report their incidents to authorities.
Delving deeper into the reasons, we see that nearly 29% felt their report wouldn’t make a difference, while, perhaps worse still, around 27% were uncertain about the reporting process. Other concerns included feelings of embarrassment (10.71%) and privacy worries (8.93%).
After facing cybercrime, most of us instinctively turn to our local law enforcement for guidance. But this raises a crucial question: Are our law enforcement websites equipped to assist the rising number of cybercrime victims?
This curiosity drove us to examine the primary portals many turn to for help: the sheriff’s websites in the five biggest Florida counties. Collectively, Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Pinellas are home to nearly 40% of Florida’s population. Their digital readiness is, therefore, crucial in the fight against cyber threats.
Our goal was straightforward: If we became a cybercrime victim today, would our local law enforcement websites show us the way or leave us lost?
Today, a website should serve as more than just a bulletin board. It should be a portal of accessibility, communication and education, especially for vital institutions like law enforcement agencies.
To assess each agency’s website, we focused on critical criteria that matter to the average user, from the straightforward user-friendliness and homepage reporting access to more-nuanced factors, including resources, education and links to other cybercrime resources. Each category was scored out of a maximum of 5 points, culminating in a total possible score of 55.
Visualizing areas for improvement is one thing; implementing change is another. Advancing the digital footprints of Florida’s sheriffs’ websites will take time. However, these insights pave the way for fortifying the connection between our communities and law enforcement.
Easy Fixes: Simple changes for impactful results
Homepage Reporting Access: The first impression is pivotal for every user. A prominently featured reporting button on the homepage is essential. This clear and direct access ensures that community members instantly know where and how to seek help when faced with challenges. For Broward and Pinellas counties, where sheriffs’ websites currently do not have an online reporting option, introducing this feature could be an impactful first step.
Resources and Education: As cybercrime rises, websites need a dedicated section on this topic. Offering educational materials and directing users to trusted sources such as the Internet Crime Complaint Center, Federal Trade Commission, and FDLE Cybercrime Office can significantly boost users’ online safety experience.
Contact Options: Clear communication paths are non-negotiable. Multiple, easy-to-find contact avenues to the sheriff’s office reassure those seeking help.
Language Options: Diversity is one of Florida’s strengths. Incorporating multilingual options on websites acknowledges our inclusive community.
Hard Fixes: Strategic shifts for a robust digital future
Website Speed and Performance: No one likes to wait, especially online. Prioritizing quick load times, particularly for mobile access, elevates user experience. While some adjustments can be immediate, more significant changes might necessitate a comprehensive website revamp.
Reporting crime data: Consistency and reliability matter. Some counties lead in adherence to national standards, but there’s a collective need for enhancement. Even though this isn’t solely a website concern, it’s a pivotal technical challenge. Reliable cybercrime data drives informed responses. It is worth noting that out of the five agencies we looked at, only the Miami-Dade Police Department reports their cybercrime data to the FBI.
Unified Reporting Feature: Reporting a crime should be hassle-free. Users shouldn’t grapple with where to submit their incident reports. A refined backend system can auto-route reports to the right agency or department, removing user guesswork.
Secure and Anonymous Messaging: Creating a confidential channel for individuals to share their concerns can be transformative. This move goes beyond traditional communication methods, offering users a platform to interact with law enforcement, seek advice, give tips and more.
In essence, our focus isn’t just on refining websites; it’s about collecting accurate crime data and giving the community a louder voice. We recognize the myriad challenges that our sheriff’s departments face. They operate with limited budgets, finite resources and the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats and traditional crimes. Digital revamps might seem like an added burden amid an already extensive list of priorities. But user-centric platforms set the stage to counter cyber threats and build a safer Florida.
Ervin Zubic is the founder of blockquiry, a Saint Petersburg-based company developing fraud detection tools and other anti-cybercrime applications.