Online harassment cases for the Austin Police Department have skyrocketed.
Investigators say that's due in part to a fairly new law. Detective Charles Riley with the High Tech Crimes Unit says social networking sites play a big role as well.
"The opportunity for someone to commit a fraudulent crime or harm somebody has exponentially increased. It's gone through the roof," said APD Detective Riley.
Detective Riley says since an online harassment law went into effect in September, they have worked some 60 cases. The fairly new Texas law makes it a crime to impersonate someone on the internet, like create a profile of them, in order to harm, threaten, or defraud anyone.
This covers instant messaging, text messaging, and emails too. The punishment ranges between a class b misdemeanor and a third degree felony.
Riley talks about one case where a woman may be harassing her ex-boyfriend.
"It was reported that there was an email address had been created that was very similar to his own email address and friends and family had received email with very negative information."
While social networking sites provide better ways of keeping in touch with friends and family, Riley says they have also created millions of victims.
"Before Facebook, MySpace, many people didn't have a website. They didn't have a online presence except for an email. Now they're out there, putting their information out there, not understanding the implications on having it forever on the web so now they have opened themselves to a crime that may not have ever been committed."
Riley says before posting anything online, you need to ask yourself this.
"If you didn't want the evening news to run that piece of information about you, don't put it online."
Riley says you need to understand privacy settings. For example, on Facebook, you should always have the setting on friends only. Don't put personal information on sites, like your address and birthday.
Riley says, "There’s supposedly 150,000 Facebook logins available for purchase on the black market right now around the world."
Having a safe password is important. Right now, the most popular one is 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, or a some series of 0 through 9.
"That is the most common password found out there."
Riley also says most people don't understand that upper and lower case does make a difference.
"They don't think it will make it more difficult."
But it does. In addition, Riley says also adding a symbol to the password makes it strong. And finally, Riley says, tell your friends to be careful of the pictures they post of you.
"It will always be on the internet."
Detective Riley also says if you think you're a victim of online harassment, report it right away because social networking sites only keep information for a certain amount of time.
Follow Jenni on Twitter@jennileefox7.