Acting Detective Sergeant Ian Nichol was first exposed to the power of social media during an automated teller machine investigation five years ago.
The suspects belonged to an expatriate community that used Facebook extensively to communicate with each other, as well as with relatives back at home from where they migrated.
“That proved to be an advantage for us,” Nichols told participants at a social media working group quarterly meeting in the headquarters auditorium. “I watched it morph into something completely different, where we now have media we never even contemplated before… What’s a little different now, though, is that we are looking at informing and communicating with the public as opposed to just investigations.”
The social media working group comprises Toronto Police members and other financial institution stakeholders.
In November 2011, Financial Crimes embarked on a social media campaign to deal with the increasing number of financial crimes in the city and nationally. A year later, three members of the unit have nearly 10,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook.
In December 2012, Financial Crimes and the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) began hosting a one-hour online Twitter chat known as Fraudchat to educate the public about financial crimes and fraud.
Within weeks, Fraudchat became a success with followers from around the country and followers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Africa, Sweden and other parts of the world.
Appealing to a wider demographic, especially our vulnerable sectors, and ensuring we are reaching people who are potentially going to be victims are some of the things we need to keep in mind as we move forward
The program deals with various topics that include romance frauds, lotteries, investments, door-to-door sales, auto insurance, staged motor vehicle collisions, hot water heater and home renovation scams as well as seniors and fraud.
“The retention and expansion of our audience will be our biggest challenge,” said Nichol. “We need to maintain a continuous presence, while keeping our subjects new and relevant. Appealing to a wider demographic, especially our vulnerable sectors, and ensuring we are reaching people who are potentially going to be victims are some of the things we need to keep in mind as we move forward.”
Staff Inspector Mary Lee Metcalfe said the Service will increasingly use social media to reach the public.
“Whether it’s to educate, prevent crime or solve ongoing criminal investigations in engaging an audience that goes far beyond any geographic or demographic boundary, we have all come to embrace the endless energy of social media,” she said. “We have already witnessed the value of our joint efforts in this working group, this past year, in such events as Fraud Prevention Month and public education campaigns.”
The social media working group co-chairs comprise Detectives Gail Regan (@ReganFCU) and Natalie Hegarty (@HegartyFCU) of Financial Crimes, 43 Division community engagement officer Constable Randy Arsenault (@PCArsenault) and FSCO senior communications officer Kristen Rose (@kristenjrose).
At the last meeting, a media panel comprised Tammie Sutherland of CityNews Toronto, Ellen Roseman of the Toronto Star, Pat Foran of CTV News and CBC News Toronto reporter Stephanie Matteis.
“In addition to trying to educate them, we wanted to get a feel from them as how we can better get our messages across,” said Metcalfe. “It was very productive having them there and both sides learned a lot.”