CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Talking to Strangers

Watch a group of teens walk down the street these days and they all seem surgically attached to a smart phone or a portable device. They learn how to use the internet at school and can access it from there.They come home after school and talk to their friends on Facebook and Twitter, instant messaging or texting them. The ins and outs of how to use the internet is like breathing to today's young generation.

Like everything, there are good things on the web and there are bad. Police say parents really need to to keep track of what their kids are doing online to protect them from the bad, and the repercussions which can lead to sexual abuse, ruined reputations and ruined lives.

Watch Zach Goudie's series Talking to Strangers and you can get a very clear idea of what can go wrong. Goudie's stories focus on how teens are using and being used by chatroulette.com - a site that's already considered past its prime. 

    Const. Edward Billard is a Child Exploitation and Pornography investigator with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Sgt. Jacques Boucher and Const. Scott Frankland are with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - Atlantic Region Integrated Technological Crime Unit. Here are some their thoughts on what parents should know.

    What parents should be aware of these days:

    It's hard to keep track of where the bad guys are lurking on the internet and where they're targeting kids because the technology evolves so quickly. Even internet savvy people have a hard time keeping up with the latest thing - and kids are so hooked into the viral world they know about any innovation minutes after it hits the web. By the time parents and police find out, it's already old hat. Here are some risky areas:

    • Social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube and Twitter where kids can interact with each other. Predators go where the kids go - anywhere where they can build trust levels. It's easy to create another persona, and gain another person's trust.
    • Random Chats sites, such as chatroulette.com or battlecam.com, that pair up random users for online one on one chats. In many cases, the user believes they are anonymous, but video sessions can be recorded. In the case of sister site, chatroulettemap.com, images captured from chatroulette can be geolocated on a google map, including images from this province.
    • Chatrooms in general, such as those associated with online games.

    A predator will use chat sites and chatrooms to establish contact and social networking sites to build trust and collect information. An adult male can easily present themselves as a 14-year-old girl with the same interests as your daughter. They can loop video to give the illusion they are a younger female. There have also been cases where a predator has gathered enough information to replicate a young person's Facebook page and gained access to their friends.

    Internet predators are not average criminals. Many of them have the financial means to travel long distances to meet their victims. If you think a person can't, or won't, fly from Australia to meet your child, think again.

    The internet is huge with teens. In some cases, take the social interaction away from them and they can't function. They will do anything to get keep their accounts, including agreeing to engage in risky behaviour so Mom and Dad don't find out and take the accounts away.

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    Advice:

    • The RCMP and the RNC say the biggest piece of advice they can give parents is: talk to your children. Have an open relationship. Know what your child is doing online and encourage them to tell you when something suspicious happens. A predator will push a young person towards escalating risky behaviour by threatening to "tell Mom and Dad what's going on."

    • The RCMP and the RNC advise parents to become computer literate. Parents often say they don't know anything about computers - and they don't need to know anything - because their child does. Parents should learn how computers work and keep up on the latest trends, just like they would take a driving course before going for a driver's licence.

    • Make sure the device is age appropriate. Does a young child need a computer or a portable device? Does the child need the device in their room, unsupervised?
    • Get rid of web cams: make sure you either buy a computer without one or have it disabled. If you need to have a web cam, buy a portable one that can be connected by USB, make sure you're there when the camera is in use, and then remove it and lock it away.

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    Social Networking sites:

    • Police say parents should tell their kids: Don't have anybody you don't know as a friend on Facebook. And not someone you casually know, or a friend of a friend, but someone you have met face to face.
    • Parents should make sure they're allowed as friends on Facebook.
    • Parents should have access to usernames, passwords and accounts for younger teens.
    • Kids shouldn't be posting information such as email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth or other personal information.
    • Privacy settings in Facebook should be locked down.

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    In general:

    Have zero trust. We naturally trust people first and then learn not to trust them. With the internet, start with the assumption of no trust. Don't trust anyone, and even then be careful. Predators can groom people for years.

    There are no borders: anything that happens online can happen in Newfoundland and Labrador or has the potential to happen here. There are no borders.

    We think of Newfoundland as being a safe place, but that doesn't apply when it comes to the internet.

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    Resources:

    cybertip.ca for reporting complaints about online activity.

    cybertip.ca's list of the top five risks to Canadian children on the Internet:

    1. Sexual offenders targeting online games that have chat rooms including interactive web games, computer and console games.
    2. Sexual offenders hijacking instant messaging accounts and coercing children/adolescents to send nude or partially clothed images of themselves. Between 2005 and 2006, reports of this threat doubled.
    3. Sexual offenders using 3D animated characters, referred to as avatars, to engage children/adolescents in online conversations.
    4. Sexual offenders targeting social networking sites where children/adolescents are encouraged to create online diaries and connect with new people.
    5. Youth sending nude images to peers without understanding that the images can be forwarded or permanently posted online.

    www.connectsafely.org - An American resource site focusing on safety on the web.

    The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre's YouTube channel

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