Learning The Hard Way About Internet Predators
(This post is part of a 2-Part special post on internet safety. Part 2 is below.)
So, you have it all figured out, right? You have all the blockers on your computer, have had talk after talk, after talk with your child about the dangers on the internet, maybe have even shown your son or daughter news clippings or television shows exposing the truth about the online predator on the other end of chat.
Have you ever seen those expose specials where the undercover reporter poses as a guy who lost his dog and gets little kids to follow him for their parents to witness via hidden camera? Or when they leave a very real looking toy gun in a room with a group of kids and hidden cameras to show parents just how willing their child is to pick up an unattended firearm and accidentally kill their sibling/neighbor/best friend?
Believing your children are safe from online predators when not under your watchful eye just because you gave them rules has the same result.
I was sent a story this week by a very internet danger-savy mom who had such a terrifying experience with her then-14 year old and an online predator who wasn’t as distant as the daughter believed. She has permitted me to post her daughter’s story to help other parents and kids be aware of just how real the online dangers are.
Just because you think they are miles away and couldn’t harm you in person, it doesn’t make it true. It only shows just how little you or your child knows about technology and how determined predators are to get to their intended victim.
My daughter thought I was just awful because I limited her time on the internet and secured it with parental controls. As well, I monitored all the places she visited and she thought I was just horrible. According to her, “I was the ONLY parent that did this”. I strongly believe in monitoring our children, on the internet, in order to protect them from predators at all costs. Here is why. This is a true and very scary story. You just never know who is really behind a key board and what their intentions are. The internet is a Predators playground with access to so many vulnerable children. They know children are trusting…that’s the saddest part of it all.
I have a very beautiful daughter. At the time, she was 14-years old and boy crazy! Her name is “Kristy”. She went home with a friend of hers after school one day. I knew her parents and the friend and all of them were very good people. We all wanted to see our kids protected.
On this particular day, the parents weren’t due home until about 30-minutes after the girls got there. They decided to hop on the internet and talk with their latest “cute boy”. He was very handsome and 14-years old. He told the girls how pretty they were and over a few days, got them to send him pictures, and personal information, including the town they lived in and the school they attended. They were smart enough not to give out their home address or phone numbers. They thought….they really did think they were being “careful”.
About 25 minutes into them chatting with this cute 14-year old boy, there was a knock on the door. Being the trusting gals they were, they opened the door, only to find a 30-year old man standing there. I will call him “Clark” . “Clark” proceeded to invite himself in, past the girls, even though they told him “no”. He had told them he was the one that had been chatting with them online for the last 25 minutes. They thought he was behind the PC at his house. He was indeed, behind the wheel of his car, chatting over his phone on the internet. Little known to the 2 girls, he was on their way to their house, in his car, and not at all behind his desk at home. He was not 14-years old, and he was not a handsome boy. He was a predator that had set out to harm these two girls. He had taken what personal information they thought was just harmless chatting and tracked them down to the address where they were. This still makes my hair stand on end…
As he pushed his way past the girls into the house, they started screaming. Thankfully, it took 5 minutes of flustering, before the man began to come after the girls, fully intending to do harm. Their parents were THANKFULLY just pulling into the driveway and heard the girls screaming and ran into the house. Also, thankfully, they rescued the girls and had the man apprehended by the police after he fled the scene.
It turned out, that this man was a convicted child molester, and the girls were his next 2 victims. There is no telling what may have happened to them, if there parents were just 15 minutes late getting home that night from work. Thankfully, he was put behind bars and the girls were INCREDIBLY lucky. He had all the cool talk and teenage lingo down pat. He knew just how to lure the girls in and make it seem like harmless chatting. He was a professional at doing this and did it well.
I thank God often that the two of them were unharmed physically. It did leave emotional scars on them both that they still are overcoming. But? Today, my daughter has a daughter. And, I can tell you, she has her internet fully locked down and her daughter highly monitored. It took this very close call for my daughter to understand why I did what I did. I am thankful, it was a close call and not an event that could have scarred her for life, or worse, taken her from me.
If you have children, please continue protecting them. YOU are the ONLY thing in between them and the thousands of sick predators out there. No matter how mean she may think you are, YOU are doing the right thing Mom. Keep on doing it! Share it with other parents and encourage them to also monitor their childs internet time. The world is just way too full of sick adults that prey on our children and the internet is a prime playground for it.
Did you know this? Type in your phone number onto google. Chances are….? It gives the address straight to your house, which can then be traced on MapQuest for directions. Way too scary! The internet makes it too easy for our children to become unsuspecting victims.
*names have been changed
Two very important points were made in this post: 1. Children have access to the internet in more ways than just home, and 2. The multiple ways predators have of gaining personal information from even the most innocent of circumstances.
A. Friend’s House/School
Just how much internet monitoring does your child’s friend’s parents do in their home? Just because you are a danger-conscious parent doesn’t mean others are.
There are, sadly, quite a number of parents who think such monitoring is an invasion of their child’s privacy. They treat their sons and daughters like tax paying citizens rather than dependents who need parents, not friends, to guide them in life and keep them safe from harm. There are many kids who are allowed to shut their bedroom door and browse the net freely at all hours. Their parents even knock on the door and when told to go away, “obey” rather than check out the situation.
Time and time again, the FBI’s internet crimes and innocent images task force and law enforcement’s local efforts, including McGruff the Crime Dog visits, warn parents about the dangers of allowing a child to have unencumbered access to the internet in his or her own room. And time and time again, they are ignored. This is where victims come from.
The next time your child says they are going to their friend’s house, why not go with them and check out the environment into which you are sending them? They are your responsibility, and you chose that duty when you chose to bring them into this world. Children are curious creatures. It is how we learn about ourselves and life. It is up to us to protect them from the snakes and bears along the path.
Also, this time of year is a good time to point out the computer labs at schools. Do not think for a moment that just because the computer is in school, your child is safe!
I have been in elementary and grade schools where the internet system in the computer labs were completely locked down unless a teacher was there to monitor, and then only certain websites could be accessed. Unfortunately, I have been in elementary and grade schools where the computer labs were always accessible to students of all ages without the supervision of teachers and with complete access to the internet.
After being permitted to investigate the activity of students online in these more liberal-use environments, I found multiple adult websites in the hard drive’s history, accounts of young students for dangerous sites for pedophile and violent activity like Chan and New Ground, Facebook/MySpace/etc.. profiles of students that their parents didn’t know they had — complete with photos of themselves, the school, their siblings, and other students and names of all…
Therefore, not only was this an issue for the students with such accounts, this also affected other students whose parents believed their children were safe because they didn’t use the internet so carelessly. Children should be taught to never post images of themselves or others, that it isn’t their right to share information about other kids with anyone else.
When you walk through a school to determine where to send your child, ask about the internet service and the restrictions. If there are no safeguards, explain to the principal/director why your child will not be a student there.
Once enrolled in a school where you feel safe, and even if your child has been a student the previous year, visit during the day to be sure such security measures are, in fact, in place.
Never let anyone tell you that you need an appointment to see your child. I am aware that some schools do not permit parents or guardians on premises during class time because they say it can be a disruption for their child; however, you’re their parent and barring any court ruling — i.e. divorce visitations — no one can keep you from seeing to their safety. If a school has such rules in place that you have to make an appointment and cannot visit the classroom without prior permission, seek education elsewhere. There is no good reason a school would have to keep a parent or other legal guardian from stopping by unannounced to look in on their child. Even if the principal or other employee needs to escort you to the classroom, which is understandable and should be respected, you should still be allowed to pop in to visit.
In my experience volunteering in both public and private schools, the only reason this was a mandatory rule was to keep parents unaware of unorthodox discipline routines and to hide a severe lacking in teaching skills going on in the classrooms. Never pick a school that seems they have something to hide, especially when it includes keeping you from seeing your own child.
Another thing you’ll want to consider are cellphones that allow internet access. Your child may not have one but their friends or friends of friends may.
There is no 100% guarantee your child will never get online without your knowledge or consent, but you should do what you can with the access out there. Educating them is a valuable weapon for them to use to protect themselves. Visiting sites like the FBI’s kid-friendly internet danger page, McGruff material on internet safety –which includes how to deal with cyber bullies and what to do when their friend is in trouble on the net — and speaking openly with them about predators goes a long way. Also, teaching a child about their self-worth goes a long way in preventing dangerous trends like sexting and giving their heart over to a stranger.
B. Giving Away Information, Even Without Realizing It
Have you ever participated in one of those social networking site “tagging” games? You know, the ones that say, “Name your favorite desert…. How old were you when you had your first kiss? … Where do you live?…” Did you know it is suspected that they were created by either sexual predators or identity thieves? I’m not sure if there is any way to know exactly where they started, but we do know who has used them and for what: Identity theft, cyber stalking, and especially grooming by sexual predators — not just of children but of adults, as well. Part 2 of this special Internet Predator post is below. Please, take a moment to read through it and understand just why such “games” are perfect tools to access your children, and why someone like “Clark” is able to drive right up to the front door of their target.
The best way to avoid revealing personal information is to simply ignore such requests.
Would you walk into a prison yard full of rapists, serial killers, and kidnappers and give them each a handout with your full name, birthday, school or work information, telephone number, hometown, siblings names, pet names, interests, hobbies, etc…? And would you allow your child to do such a thing? What is the difference when you don’t know who is really asking the questions, or who else may have access to the answers you give?
Do this: Type “pretty girl” or “cute boy” in your search engine and narrow it down for just “Images”. You can copy any one of those into your computer, make a fake account on a social networking site, and use that photo to say it is you. Better still is if you find an entire album full of that user’s photos. This is how predators pretend to be who they are not.
Online predators steal the identities of careless people across the net posting their personal photos on photo sharing sites. Many times, the owners of the photos even have descriptions underneath that make it easy for the predator to tell a good story to back up their alias. They get your trust this way, by showing you they trust you enough to share all of this, and soon have you telling them all about your life, including how to track you down — even at the grocery store.
Look how many people post their daily activities in there status messages, Twitter, etc… Imagine someone you’ve trusted with all your other information trying to find the perfect time and place to grab you, or your child.
Never forget that grooming parents is what predators do when their target is closely monitored. You may think you are protecting your child by not revealing their information, and you may think the person you are speaking with is only after getting to know you. In reality, they may be going through you to get access to your child. This is what they do when you post your child’s photo as your avatar/profile photo.
It’s like window shopping. They see a pretty child as the profile photo of a parent who is, obviously, not wise to the dangers, and they know this person can be easily fooled into giving them all they need: access to family photos at the very least, information about their children found in blogs and comments and even the profile information section, family outings where the predator can watch from a distance, and private conversations about issues at home the predator can use to earn trust and an emotional bond to mom/dad.
Simply put, no one on the internet should ever be trusted with your personal information, and your child should be made aware of this and understand the dangers.