HARRISBURG — Attorney General Tom Corbett urges parents to spend time during the holidays reviewing the importance of Internet safety with their children, especially if they are getting new computers, game systems, cell phones or other electronic devices as holiday gifts.
“The latest generation of electronic devices allows users to access the Internet or send and receive messages, pictures or videos,” Corbett said. “Predators know that children will be exploring these new features and are hoping to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.”
Corbett said that over the past year the Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit has arrested 69 men, from all across Pennsylvania and as far away as Massachusetts and Texas, all accused of using the Internet to sexually exploit children. Since 2005, undercover agents have arrested 245 online predators.
“These predators are stalking social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook, looking for kids who are vulnerable or lonely, gathering details about their lives and trying to use that information to gain their trust,” Corbett said. “They also use Internet chat rooms and websites created to discuss popular video games as tools to gain access to children.”
Corbett said that Internet predators operate in many different ways. Some spend lengthy periods of time building a relationship with a child before arranging to meet them for sex. Others may send nude photos or sexually explicit videos to children – often within the first few minutes of an initial online chat.
“Computer and cell phone technology make it fast and easy to send messages or images, and many of the men arrested by the Child Predator Unit began sexually graphic discussions during their first online conversations with what they believed were children,” Corbett said. “Parents should regularly review Internet safety with children because their use of the Internet will change depending on their age and the devices they have access to, along with the online activities of their friends.”
Corbett urged parents to monitor the following:
-Know what your children are doing online.
-Understand the websites they use and who they are communicating with.
-Review their MySpace and Facebook pages, or other online profiles.
-Talk to them about the dangers of face-to-face meeting with strangers.
-Do your own research – use Google or other Internet searches to see what your children, or their friends, may be posting online.
-Additionally, Corbett said that parents who are giving new game systems or other electronic devices should also review online safety tips:
-Many systems and games allow kids to play with people around the world – friends and strangers alike – and to send and receive messages.
-Make sure children do not reveal personal information, like their names, ages or addresses.
-Monitor their communication with others.
-Check the game system instructions for details about privacy controls and parental restrictions that can be activated.
-Encourage children to report any inappropriate contact involving strangers, including sexually suggestive comments, attempts to arrange face-to-face meetings, threats or abusive behavior.
“The Internet is a good resource for communication, education and entertainment, but children need supervision,” Corbett said. “Working together, law enforcement and parents can prevent new electronic gifts from being used to harm children.”
Reporting Internet Predators
Suspected Internet predators can be reported to the Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit by using the “report a predator” link, located on the front page of the Attorney General’s Web site or by calling the Child Predator Hotline, at 1-800-385-1044.
Internet safety tips and other information are available in the “Operation Safe Surf” and “Just for Kids” sections of the Attorney General’s website. Organizations interested in materials, speakers or presentations, contact the Attorney General’s Education and Outreach Office at 1-800-525-7642 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org