The Internet is a huge information source and a valuable tool for adults and children, but because of its anonymous nature it creates opportunities for predators.
Predators search for potential victims usually in chat rooms, but a child might catch the attention of a predator from information they provided on their blog or social network profile (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, etc…) Interaction usually begins in chat rooms and within 45 minutes a predator can usually find out the child’s full name, address, school, and what activities they participate in. Predators look for clues about the child: what they like to do, how old they are, and other important characteristics/interests. Much of this information is often revealed by the child’s user name or given willingly by the child.
Once the predator befriends the child, they often ask the child if they can include them on the child’s buddy or friends lists. This way the predator can tell each time the child is online with no effort on their part. The anonymous factor allows predators to become a “friend.” Over time, the predator can develop a relationship with the child and build their trust. Often times a predator will ask the child to keep their relationship a secret. At some point the predator will then try to move the relationship to the next phase with the ultimate goal being physical interaction — frequently for a sexual encounter. The consequences of face-to-face meeting can be deadly.
If you suspect your child is being contacted by a cyber-predator or has received a sexual solicitation online, immediately contact your local police department, the CyberTip Line at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com (CyberTip Line is in association with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children).
If you suspect a face-to-face meeting has been arranged, contact your local law enforcement immediately. Also, archive and print all interactions between the predator and your child.
Talk with your children to let them know of the dangers while being online — not everyone has good intentions.
Above all, embrace the technology that your children use and not run away from it. Knowledge is the most powerful tool that you have as a parent and if you’re behind on the evolution of technology, you’re that much more behind on keeping your child safe. The best thing you can do as a parent is to be aware of all of these dangers and to educate yourself and children — to help bring you up on technology, Microsoft and Apple stores often have training sessions available.