What can an Internet predator learn about your child while chatting online?
• Phone number
• Home and school address
And that’s after only 20 minutes.
The ease of extracting vital information from children online was demonstrated by Gilbert police Thursday night during a Internet safety discussion at the Higley school district’s Gateway Pointe Elementary School.
“Stuff like this really happens — even here,” officer Dave Rich said. “It’s not just in the movies or on TV.”
Rich is a school resource officer at Mesquite Junior High School in the Gilbert school district. He and officer Paul Alaniz speak to schools and groups several times a year about Internet dangers and ways to protect children.
Rich has worked as a detective on cases involving Gilbert children solicited by predators. He gave parents a vivid account of what can happen if they don’t recognize warning signs, including a story about a 13-year-old Gilbert girl pursued by a 65-year-old man.
“I’m very surprised — shocked,” said Debbie Niu, a mother of six. “My oldest is 10. I wanted to find out more as my kids get older. This was a good opportunity to do that.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that one in seven children (10- to 17-years-old) will receive a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet.
Only about 25 percent tell their parents.
Chat rooms and Internet messaging are the most common ways predators target and find children. But social networking Web sites such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com, where users post personal profiles, have made it even easier, police said.
“These predators can show and say anything they want online,” Rich said. “They are master manipulators.”
Earlier this year, MySpace administrators found and deleted more than 29,000 profiles of convicted sex offenders. But police say there are many more still logged on.
The age of children who use the Internet to communicate is also dropping. Some Web sites like Club Penguin appeal to children as young as 5.
Club Penguin is a virtual world that allows children to design a character and chat with others.
“I always tell kids and parents that sites like MySpace aren’t bad,” Rich said. “That’s like saying a pencil is bad. But it’s some people who use these sites that are to be worried about.”
Rich said some predators spend months and even years “grooming” children into trusting them. They brainwash these children to believe that no one cares about them except the predator, he said.
Internet safety tips for parents:
• Establish rules with your children.
• Talk about Internet dangers.
• Create a user profile.
• Set security settings to restrict certain sites.
• Don’t give out personal information.
• Keep screen names generic and gender unspecific.
• Don’t share passwords or computer accounts.
• Check Internet history regularly.
• Keep computer in clear sight.
Warning signs for children
Tell an adult if someone tries to:
• Isolate you from family and friends.
• Turn you against your parents.
• Make you keep communication a secret.
•Send or talk about inappropriate material.