Law Enforcement Uses WoW to Find, Arrest Fugitive

Tip: if you're "on the lam," try to resist the urge to log in to World of Warcraft—a SWAT team might break down your door the next morning. That's a similar story to what recently happened to a wanted fugitive, and it's one of the hottest anecdotal, WoW-related news stories making its way around the blogoshere today. According to multiple reports, the Howard County Sheriff's Department in Indiana had been searching for a man named Alfred Hightower, after a warrant for his arrest—relating to drug charges—was issued in 2007.

The fugitive's trail apparently went cold until just recently, when the department's investigators collaborated with U.S. Marshals and learned that Hightower had fled to Canada. According to the Kokomo Perspective, a local newspaper, the investigating sheriffs finally caught the break they were looking for when they discovered Hightower was a regular WoW player. The newspaper interviewed the man behind the investigation, Howard County Sheriff’s Department deputy Matt Roberson, to find out how the department used WoW to capture a wanted fugitive...

“We received information that this guy was a regular player of an online game, which was referred to as ‘some warlock and witches’ game,” said Roberson. “None of that information was sound enough to pursue on its own, but putting everything we had together gave me enough evidence to send a subpoena to Blizzard Entertainment. I knew exactly what he was playing — World of Warcraft. I used to play it. It’s one of the largest online games in the world.”

This isn't the first time Blizzard has assisted law enforcement or emergency services personnel in locating a person-of-interest, but it might be the first time that an international fugitive's WoW fandom led to his arrest. Robertson says he was both surprised and grateful that Blizzard provided the information he requested, according to the same article:

“They don’t have to respond to us, and I was under the assumption that they wouldn’t,” said Roberson. “It had been three or four months since I had sent the subpoena. I just put it in the back of my mind and went on to do other things. Then I finally got a response from them. They sent me a package of information. They were very cooperative. It was nice that they were that willing to provide information.”

As you can imagine, Blizzard was able to provide the IP address that Hightower was using to access WoW, which Robertson used to locate him. Once the deputy was able to obtain the longitude and latitude associated with that IP, he used Google Earth to identify Hightower's street address, which he promptly handed over to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Canadian police ended up making the actual arrest, but Robertson was praised by his department for his innovative use of technology in tracking down the fugitive, according to the article.

There are two lessons to be learned from this story: if you're in law enforcement and you're investigating the location of a suspect or fugitive, try and find out if he or she is an online gamer. On the other hand, if you're an MMO player "on the run" from the police or a government agency, it might be a good idea to just go ahead and miss your guild's weekly Icecrown Citadel raid for the time-being.

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He didnt know
# Jan 04 2010 at 3:43 PM Rating: Good
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demiguy wrote:
use proxy?


True, but only if you know you are being traced. As a poster already said, he fled the country and has been for 2 years and figured he got away. Decided everything was in the clear 2 years later and started up with his life again. Instead of his stupid ass not thinking more then 3 minutes in front of him, should of thought for a moment, "Hmmm, I should take a few precautions just in case they are still looking for me in some way."

I guess he didn't watch enough CSI episodes.
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# Jan 03 2010 at 5:05 PM Rating: Good
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There's a thread about this over on the WoW General forums, too.
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Penny Arcade
# Jan 03 2010 at 10:11 AM Rating: Excellent
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Penny Arcade did a strip about it: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2010/1/1/
0.o
# Jan 03 2010 at 9:10 AM Rating: Decent
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use proxy?
It's just too much fun!
# Jan 03 2010 at 4:39 AM Rating: Good
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The part that stuck out here for me was that he had the warrant out on him in 2007. So when he fled the country, he probably did stop using computers, credit cards, cell phones, etc... for awhile. Two years later and he must have thought that he got away clean lol.

And hey, who WOULDN'T get back into WoW after hearing about the new dungeon finder?? That's how they got me :D
Time Cards anyone?
# Jan 02 2010 at 11:54 PM Rating: Default
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Another hit for "Dumbest Criminals Show". Why not use a time card rather than a credit card that could be traced?
For that matter, why didn't the cops just trace his credit card, his IP must of had it as well.
Seems to me a real long and chancy way to do it.
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Time Cards anyone?
# Jan 03 2010 at 12:12 AM Rating: Excellent
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Scuba, the sheriff's department wasn't trying to find out who was paying his wow bill (which could have been his cousin in Buffalo, for all we know) but rather, where he was - which requires them to know where he is logging in from. For that - they need the IP he is connecting from to give them the geographic location of his person - not his credit card number. Likewise, using a game time card would not have changed anything about his login IP.

IP addresses are tied to providers, which are regional/local. The provider is able to identify where they provided service to - giving a street address. A street address or other location is required in order to issue a warrant to enter the property and search for the person. In order to get the warrant you must have two things - a defined location to search, and probable cause to indicate that what you are searching for is there (in this case, evidence that an account belonging to this individual was logged in from that location).

A credit card number doesn't provide that, and a game time card wouldn't impact that aspect of the investigation.
Time Cards anyone?
# Jan 03 2010 at 2:03 PM Rating: Decent
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Nixie, I've been in IT since 1970 :) I do understand how searches on IP's work and use them all the time running the game-servers I have for DoD.
I was NOT referring that the credit card was a way to trace him to his home. I AM saying that that is the ONLY way Blizzard or anyone else is going to be able to find out his true name and identity.

If I registered with WoW using a gmail account (phony name and registration), signed in with a phony identity and used only a time card (also no identity tied to it), Blizzard and ANY law enforcement department will NOT be able to locate ME as the have no idea which of the 14 million players (140 million toons) belong to ME the guy they are looking for.

If I signed up and used a valid credit card that was in my name...duh... Blizzard and Law Enforcement can search on the name and locate the IP... easy.

In conclusion, this dip-stick either signed up using his name and credit card in Canada, OR just used his old account and started paying with time cards (but too late as his old account has his real name).
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Silvermoon:
Scubashark - M-Orc Hunter lvl85
Gillestar - M-NE Warrior lvl85
Prizzianna - F-Human Rouge lvl85
Anamaria - F-Human Mage lvl85
Simoney - F-Human Warlock lvl85
Darknights - M-NE Hunter lvl85
Quethala - F-Blood Elf Paladin lvl63
Laconia - F-Worgen Druid lvl85
Aliquem - F-Human Death Knight lvl85
Pocitrocket - F-Goblin Rogue lvl58
MoonRunner:
Moozeltoff - M-Tauren Shaman lvl40
Allusia - F-Undead Warlock lvl52
Grimlene - F Dwarf Hunter lvl44
Time Cards anyone?
# Jan 03 2010 at 11:15 PM Rating: Good
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<chuckle> I see. I am in IT, husband is in law enforcement - now that I know you speak the language, I'll be more to the point. :) From the way the article was written, it seemed likely that the warrant was based on PC that included evidence the toon "xyz" belonged to the suspect - regardless of what account or who was paying it. Though I agree if they did not have that, the proces you described is the most sensible 'start from zero' method.

Time Cards anyone?
# Jan 04 2010 at 11:23 AM Rating: Decent
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TheNixie
Quote:
From the way the article was written, it seemed likely that the warrant was based on PC that included evidence the toon "xyz" belonged to the suspect - regardless of what account or who was paying it.


That was what I was trying to get at. They have to have some starting point that has his Real Name (Hightower) cross-referenced to his WoW account. From that point Blizzard and Cops search for "Hightower", find that he is active and trace his IP that he is connecting from. Without that connection (Real identity to WoW account), they can't find or identify you.

That's why I was saying this guy was stupid for a crook (well most are anyway).

lol, I did re-read my statement about the credit card trace. Made an assumption that he was still using one with his name. If true, the cops should be able to trace him with the CC Companies help, at least as to the billing address.

Making a mountain out of a molehill here lol, I'll just take it for what it was meant to be, a good sideline story about a dumb crook getting caught through an unusual method. :)
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Silvermoon:
Scubashark - M-Orc Hunter lvl85
Gillestar - M-NE Warrior lvl85
Prizzianna - F-Human Rouge lvl85
Anamaria - F-Human Mage lvl85
Simoney - F-Human Warlock lvl85
Darknights - M-NE Hunter lvl85
Quethala - F-Blood Elf Paladin lvl63
Laconia - F-Worgen Druid lvl85
Aliquem - F-Human Death Knight lvl85
Pocitrocket - F-Goblin Rogue lvl58
MoonRunner:
Moozeltoff - M-Tauren Shaman lvl40
Allusia - F-Undead Warlock lvl52
Grimlene - F Dwarf Hunter lvl44
ROLFMAO!!!
# Jan 02 2010 at 11:37 PM Rating: Decent
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and the dumbass got what he deserved!
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minor correction
# Jan 02 2010 at 11:36 PM Rating: Good
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the expression is "on the lam", not "lamb".
It has nothing to do with sheep.
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minor correction
# Jan 03 2010 at 12:14 PM Rating: Decent
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Well being he was in Canada he might have been on the lamb. But that has nothing to do with what he was in trouble for.
minor correction
# Jan 03 2010 at 12:17 AM Rating: Excellent
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lol, you're right...as I was typing that, I was thinking, "Okay, gotta do a Google search on this really quick because I remember the phrase isn't actually regarding a farm animal"....and then I forgot. Heh, thanks for the catch.
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Blizzard rocks
# Jan 02 2010 at 11:12 PM Rating: Decent
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Very cool. And kudos to Blizzard for doing the right thing.
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