Internet use and abuse
March 4, 2006
A computer is a powerful tool, and like most other kinds of power it can be abused. FBI special agent Jeff Ross said the Internet can be a dangerous place, and parents need to be aware of that.
On Wednesday night parents gathered at Treasure Mountain International School to listen to a presentation by Ross about Internet safety.
After holding an assembly for students last month, vice principal Shawn Kuennen wanted to bring the same information to parents concerning online predators.
"My hope is the parents (will) be a little more informed," Kuennen said.
Ross has worked with the FBI for seven years, nearly four of those have been spent working on Internet crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children.
He cautioned the audience that nobody is immune to those crimes and mentioned having arrested a person just blocks from the school for possession of child pornography.
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"A lot of times the public has this perception that a pedophile is the creepy guy living in his basement," he said.
People who comb the Internet looking for children to exploit come in all shapes and sizes, said Ross, who has arrested doctors, cops, lawyers and homeless people.
He asked parents in the audience to consider whether their children have an Internet profile that provides personal information. These profiles can be found on sites such as MySpace, Livejournal or other commonly used blogs.
"It’s viewable by the entire public," he said of the profiles.
They often contain enough information for a pedophile to learn where a child lives and where they attend school.
Ross gave the example of a young girl who became a victim because an older man was able to locate her based on information she provided in her AOL profile.
She listed one of her interests as Beanie Babies, and after performing a Google search for her screen name, he located the young girl on a separate Website where she advertised a desire to buy and sell the popular collectibles. He got her email address and later her phone number, Ross said.
Plugging the number into a search engine, he was able to get the girl’s address, which gave him enough information to find and later molest her, he said.
"It’s happening in your home and most parents aren’t aware of this," Ross said.
He sited a teen pole conducted by Time and CNN that found 45 percent of kids said parents only know a little about the Websites they visit.
After searching MySpace, Ross said he found several Park City High School users, some of them girls who had pictures of themselves posing provocatively in bath tubs with bubbles covering explicit areas.
"There’s nothing wrong with MySpace as a Website," he said, adding that it is "cool" and allows young students to meet other kids but found pedophiles and other online predators use the same sites and caution should be used.
Who is at risk?
Ross said many parents have an "it will never happen to me" mentality when it comes to their children being victimized. The following are signs a child is at risk of becoming prey to an online predator:
Child spends a lot of time online without parental control.
Child receives calls, gifts or packages from people their parents don’t know.
Child becomes withdrawn from the family.
Child is using someone else’s online account.
Child turns off the computer monitor when a parent enters the room.
With new technology, such as cell phones that allow people to chat online with text messaging, a growing number of youths are gaining access to the Internet. With increased use, comes a need for increased precautions, Ross said. He suggests the following:
Set reasonable guidelines about Internet use.
Talk openly to children about the dangers of the Internet.
Monitor children’s online sessions. Many Internet service providers have parental controls that allow parents to look at a history of Websites their child has been visiting or block Websites.
Put the computer in a common area and make computer use a family activity.
Don’t allow children unsupervised access to the Internet.
Ross said that parents should contact the FBI or police if they learn of someone who has child pornography in their possession, if their child has been sexually solicited or if they have received sexually explicit images.
With the rampant use of child pornography, Ross said, "working this stuff is like shooting a fish in a barrel."
An important part of protecting children, Ross said is parents being computer savvy.
Mia Rossi, a mother of two with children ages 13 and 17 said she attended the presentation because she has a computer but is unfamiliar with how to use it.
"I think I’ve got to sit there and make sure it is what it is," she said of the sites her teen-agers visit.
Rossi trusts both her children, but says she’s thinking about taking some of Ross’ advice.
"They’re good kids, and I want them to stay that way," she said.
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