After Joseph Hanvey downloaded child porn on his phone Wednesday, police say, the 22-year-old from Indiana received a startling message.
It warned him that the FBI was monitoring his phone, police say he told them, and his phone locked up and wouldn’t turn on. According to The Indianapolis Star, police say Hanvey then decided to turn himself in to authorities and admit what happened.
At first, Hanvey allegedly drove around the city of Valparaiso for about two hours, looking for a police officer who could hear his confession, police told The Northwest Indiana Times. When he couldn’t find one, police say he went to a police station and made his confession after the hours-long drive.
There was just one problem: The message came from a ransomware virus, not the FBI, police say. The goal of the scam was to trick Hanvey into giving money so the screen would unlock, according to The Indianapolis Star.
“Hanvey believed the disclaimer originated from the FBI, and that they locked his phone for accessing child pornography,” detective Jason Hamilton wrote in a court document, according to the newspaper.
Even though the scam was false, Hanvey’s confession was very real, police say. He was charged with possessing child pornography, a felony, after police told The Northwest Indiana Times that they found multiple images of child porn on his cellphone.
So just how does the FBI track people downloading child porn?
Often, it starts with companies like Google and Yahoo, which use algorithms in an attempt to discover people downloading the illicit images of minors, according to PBS. They then tell the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children if they come across any potential child porn.
Calvin Shivers, a special agent for the FBI’s Denver office, told PBS that roughly half of child porn investigations by the FBI start with an alert from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“A lot of times, when you just get a general tip, there may not be enough information,” he told PBS. “But NCMEC, because of the experienced staff, they’re able to in some instances call additional information that may help the investigation.”
But Tina Fourkas, another FBI special agent, said it’s hard to track down all the offenders because “it’s your neighbor, it’s your pastor, it’s your teacher, it’s your soccer coach.” Basically, she said, it’s hard to pin down a certain type of suspect because it could be anyone.
“I wish there was some magic profile where we could identify these people,” she told PBS, “but there’s not.”