The internet is a wonderful tool. It provides students, doctors, scientists and other professionals with instant access to a previously unimaginable amount of information – all without leaving their office or living room. Unfortunately, it also provides those same advantages to criminals, who can use the Internet to threaten you, steal your personal information or exploit your children. Children are particularly susceptible to Internet dangers because they are generally more naïve and trusting than adults. Consequently, they are more likely to believe that their new computer friend “Billy” really is a twelve year-old boy who likes the Yankees and Giants, instead of a convicted sex offender hunting for prey.
What can I do to protect my child ?
The first rule of protecting your children from Internet crime is no different from protecting them from other types of crime: Spend time with your children! Know what is happening in their lives, know their friends and interests, and create the type of relationship with them in which they feel comfortable discussing their problems with you and coming to you when they are afraid. If you do not have the time to teach your children about these dangers, rest assured that some predator will.
Don’t be naïve. Sexual predators meeting with children and coercing them to have sex; preferential sex offenders sending child pornography to children; children downloading bomb-making instructions or purchasing weapons or narcotic paraphernalia over the Internet – these types of crimes, and others like them, occur in Somerset County every day. In the past three years, the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office has prosecuted six individuals who communicated on-line with actual children or undercover officers posing as children, then traveled to Somerset County to have sex with them. Do not think that those types of crimes just don’t happen in Somerset County.
Teach your children rules for safe Internet use. Make sure that your children realize that people on the Internet can pretend to be anyone or anything they want. Teach them to never reveal personal information (name, address, phone number, hometown, school name, address or mascot, credit card information, etc.) without a parent’s permission. Tell them never to talk on the phone to, meet in person, send anything to or accept anything from anyone that they met through the Internet without a parent’s permission.
Don’t be an ostrich. Raising children in today’s world is a scary proposition, but sticking your head in the sand and pretending that the dangers do not exist is not the answer. Do not be afraid to snoop! Frequently inspect the computer to see what types of sites have been accessed (see instructions below). Inspect your caller-ID or telephone bills for unusual phone calls. Look for expensive gifts that your child could not afford on his or her own, or letters, notes, photos or packages from strangers or anonymous persons. Be suspicious if your child quickly turns off the computer monitor or changes screens when you enter the room, or demonstrates an unexpected and unexplainable change in personality. Finally, make sure your children are where they say they will be – watch when you drop them off at the mall or the library to see if they actually go inside, and call the parents of the friend with whom they say they are spending the night to confirm the plans.
The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office offers a free Internet Safety Seminar that discusses on-line dangers, using examples from actual Somerset County Cases, and includes various tips for keeping your children safe on-line. Due to the material covered, the program is intended for adults only, and is aimed at parents with little or no computer experience. If you would like to schedule this program in your school district, please contact Assistant Prosecutor W. Brian Stack at (908) 231-7100.
Instructions for checking which Internet sites have been accessed with your computer:
Click on the “My Computer” icon;
Click on the “(C:)” icon;
Click on the “Windows” folder;
- Click on four folders to view the sites accessed with the computer.
- “Temporary Internet Files”