handcuffed manIn conjunction with a research report I produced for the Sheriff of Racine County Wisconsin, regarding digital image evidence protocol, I examined the value of a computer screen shot as evidence. I have outlined a process by which digital screen shots can be used as evidence in legal process and in other important examinations.

The point of the exercise is to produce an incontrovertible record of original information. Then, if that information is subsequently changed in an attempt to manipulate appearances or outcomes, the original screen shot can effectively dispute those changes. The process is fairly simple yet highly effective, and should stand up in any court of law or other venue of dispute.
For instance: Let's say that you found a car on eBay that you decided to purchase. You contacted the seller and you made your deal. However, when you arrived at the seller's address to pay for the car, you noticed that it was red, not black as the listing had indicated. You refused to pay for the car. The next thing you knew, you were being sued in small claims for breech of contract. In court, the judge wanted proof of how the car was represented. The seller produced a printout of the listing which clearly declared the car was red. The judge admonished you for being dumb and wasting his time. He awarded damages to the seller. You knew what you saw in that original listing. You had agreed to buy a black car, not a red one. The seller must have generated a fake listing to show to the judge and there was nothing you could do about it.

To avoid the above scenario, or something similar, here's what you can do:

When you decide to make a major purchase from an online source which you're not sure that you can trust, take a screen shot of the offering as it originally appears. Take several shots if you need to. Make sure they're clear, and get your computer date and time display in them also. Next, immediately email those images to yourself, thus getting the time stamp through your email service provider to help confirm date and time. Then print out the entire email, including headers if possible, and put it in a safe place. It can't hurt to have a witness initial those printouts also. Last, save those images to removable memory and try to have that operation witnessed also.

Now, if you were to be in that same court, in the same predicament with the same car and seller, when the judge asked for proof of the offer in question, you'd let the seller speak first. Then, after the seller makes his forged documentation a matter of court record, you'd produce your well documented evidence to the judge, describing how you recorded it. The judge might ask the seller why he's such a liar. He'd probably dismiss the case immediately. Next, you might possibly consider requesting that the District Attorney prosecute the seller for perjury and attempted fraud. A well timed screen shot can really rock your world.

Gary Sattler is a freelance blogger and former state certified humane enforcement officer.

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