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SD universities launch multi-institution crime fighting program

If you come across some sketchy sneakers, buyer beware.
SD universities launch multi-institution crime fighting program
SD universities launch multi-institution crime fighting program(Dominik Dausch)
Published: Aug. 20, 2021 at 12:55 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Dark web deals and criminal networks; you might think these problems only affect urban populations, but illegal trade is hurting people right here in South Dakota.

At a glance, these Chuck Taylor converse hi-tops look authentic, but they are not. Dr. Jon...
At a glance, these Chuck Taylor converse hi-tops look authentic, but they are not. Dr. Jon Kellar, head of the new Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy, says shoddy stitching and even the packaging the shoes came in - delivered from an address in China - are clear giveaways these sneakers are sketchy.(Dominik Dausch)

What you’re looking at in the photo above is a pair of iconic, cherry-red Chuck Taylor hi-tops. At first glance, they look like the real deal, but according to South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SDSMT) professor Dr. Jon Kellar, they’re not.

“A lot of labeling ... and even the packaging - how they arrived - is a clue to the fact they may not be authentic,” Kellar says.

These sneakers run for 60 bucks on the Converse website. If you picked up a pair of fakes on the cheap, you might think you’ve come across a good deal.

Kellar says there’s a big downside to the discount: “actually, these sneakers may be funding illicit activities in a world away, doing great harm to people.”

That’s why four of South Dakota’s major universities, including SDSMT, are teaming up to create the Center for Understanding and Disrupting the Illicit Economy.

The multi-institution program will focus on identifying counterfeit goods and related criminal supply networks using specialized equipment in labs across the state.

According to a release from SDSMT, participating universities and their disciplines include:

  • SDSMT: identifying counterfeit materials and goods.
  • South Dakota State University: tracking counterfeit pharmaceutics.
  • University of South Dakota: developing new security inks to print on authentic items for tracking purposes.
  • Dakota State University (DSU): cybersecurity.

SD Mines researchers have spent years developing anti-counterfeiting technology used for tracking and blocking illegitimate passenger jet parts and illicit drugs from entering their respective supply chains.

Dr. Ashley Podhradsky, vice president of Research and Economic Development at DSU, says her Madison-based research team will take a special focus in navigating the dark web and investigating criminal networks.

The tools and techniques they develop could potentially see use by police and other organizations and further develop those relationships.

“For cybercrime investigation, this center will give us the capacity and synergy to boost partnerships with other agencies, through memorandums of understanding and joint powers agreements,” Podhradsky says.

The South Dakota Mines lab also analyzes bogus indigenous artwork. Dr. Jacob Petersen, an SDSMT research scientist, says these goods are manufactured in other countries and sold online, which ultimately hurts local artists.

“When someone counterfeits Native American art, not only are they kind of detracting from the culture that is associated with that artwork, but they’re also misrepresenting that artist,” Petersen says. “Someone’s almost always making society pay a cost so that they can reap the rewards of that.”

On the surface, it may seem like the buyer is the sole victim, but Keller says the impact is much deeper.

“The people that manufacture them may have been trafficked or the proceeds may go to illicit activities - terrorist activities, for example. So, I think the take-home message is: these aren’t victimless crimes, necessarily.”

The new statewide center is being funded thanks to a $3.9 million grant from the Research and Commercialization Council through the South Dakota Governor’s Research Center.

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