The "stupid criminal" story has long been a staple of late-night TV specials and local news channel reports.
There’s the classic case of a bungling, would-be robber, like Ontario crook Daniel Glen who called a convenience store in 2008 to find out how much cash was in the register before he robbed the store (police were on standby to arrest Glen as soon as he entered the store).
Then there’s 53-year-old Michael Anthony Fuller, who tried to use a $1 million bill at his local Wal-Mart, clearly forgetting that U.S. currency notes don’t go above $100. And now, thanks to the magic of social media, police are catching criminals who foolishly brag about their crimes or post incriminating evidence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media channels.
“Over-sharing criminal details on social media is a sure-fire way to get caught,” said criminal defense attorney Grant Bettencourt, who monitors the role of social media in criminal prosecution. “From DUIs to thefts, it’s truly shocking how much incriminating evidence is regularly posted on social media.”
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Here are four of the most outrageous errors would-be criminals made on social media and how the police caught them red-handed.
Foolish Crime #1: The Case of the Drunk Periscope Driver
From Vine stars to Periscope, today’s Millennial vloggers can’t stop documenting their lives with a live-stream of activity. But some vloggers take it too far. Consider the case of Florida resident Whitney Beall, who live-broadcast her wild drunk driving ride on her Periscope account.
Not only did Beall live-stream herself while driving (an activity we can all agree is pretty dangerous with or without any alcohol), but Beall also confessed to all her drinking during the live stream.
Beall reportedly said she was “drunk, [expletive] drunk”, that she didn’t know where she was, and that she ran over something while driving and had a flat tire. Viewers watching her Periscope account called the police, who tracked down Beall’s car and arrested her. Moments before the traffic stop, Beall – who is still live streaming, despite being pulled over by the police – says, “I really hope I don’t get a DUI.” Sorry Beall, but there’s no escaping this one! Beall failed a field sobriety test, refused a breathalyzer, and was booked in the county jail on DUI charges.
Foolish Crime #2: The Case of the YouTube Bank Robber
Back in 2012 before the launch of Periscope, foolish criminals relied on YouTube to brag about their crimes. This includes the seven-minute video called, “Chick Bank robber”, which really lives up to its name. Nineteen-year-old Nebraska resident Hannah Sabata recorded a video in which she holds up a sign saying “I stole from a car” and then holds up a bag of marijuana. Sabata’s next sign says, “Then I stole a car!” as she mimes “oops”.
Her final sign: a declaration that she “Robbed a bank!” with a “gun, pillowcase, and note” according to the video’s subtitles. Sabata then shows off her cash. Sabata’s spree didn’t last long; police were tipped off to the video hours after Sabata uploaded it, who without the video say Sabata just might have gotten away with her crimes. Oops, indeed!
Foolish Crime #3: The Case of the Facebook Confession
In January 2011, then nineteen-year-old Rodney Knight Jr. broke into the home of Washington Post journalist Marc Fisher, stealing a coat, cash, and a laptop belonging to Fisher’s son. Knight then logged into the Facebook account of Fisher’s son, posting a photo of himself showing off the pilfered cash while wearing the stolen coat– which all of Fisher’s 400+ friends instantly saw.
It didn’t take long for police to track down Knight and arrest him. Kyle Roe, the DC police officer working the case, said, “I've seen a lot, but this is the most stupid criminal I've ever seen”, according to The Register. Posting a gloating self-portrait from the victim’s own laptop for the world to see? Never a wise move!
Foolish Crime #4: The Case of the Facebook Confession, Part 2
Stupid criminals can’t seem to learn from others’ mistakes, either! Michael Baker, then 20 years old, posted a photo to Facebook of himself siphoning gas from a local police car. Stealing from the police is never a wise idea, but documenting the theft on Facebook? Now that’s just plain stupid.
After the arrest, Baker claimed the photo was intended to be a joke, but the police failed to see the humor in it. Baker definitely wasn’t laughing in his mug shot, either!
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Social media is a permanent record. Watch what you post!