Parents: Here's how online predators target your kids
You've probably never heard of Ask.fm, Omegle.com or KeepSafe. Chances are your children have.
That knowledge haunts N.J. State Police Lt. John Pizzuro, who sees first-hand the damage cyber predators can inflict on youngsters, often while their parents sit in blissful ignorance in another room.
Pizzuro is a commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, a coalition of 61 groups representing more than 3,500 federal, state and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies nationwide.
The Garden State unit fields 2,500 cyber tips a year, the fifth highest total in the country, Pizzuro recently told 101.5 Radio.
What makes his assignment particularly thorny, the crime-fighter said, is that new websites and apps are popping up every day. With more and more avenues to explore, tomorrow's predators will be able to troll sites law-enforcement officials haven't even dreamed of yet.
As a public service, N.J. Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Burlington County) has listed on his website some of the sites and apps the taskforce has identified as attracting potential predators.
These include some that most tech-savvy adults will recognize, such as Tinder, Snapchat and WhatsApp, and others such as Hide It Pro, Private Photo Vault and AppLock, which help kids hide what they're doing from Mom and Dad.
"Whatever medium or whatever technology the children use, predators are looking for," Pizzuro said in his interview.
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, based at the University of New Hampshire, the majority of Internet sex crimes targets youths age 12 and up; most victims are between 13 and 15.
Typically, the center says, offenders manipulate young people into criminal sexual relationships by appealing to their desire to be appreciated and understood, to take risks and to experiment with sex.
What can parents do, besides educating themselves about the issue and keeping track of the sites their children visit and the apps they use?
The center recommends reaching out to teens with messages that are credible, not loaded with platitudes and heavy-handed advice.
"This means not talking down to them; being familiar with their culture; acknowledging their familiarity with the Internet; and respecting their ... aspirations for independence, new relationships and accurate sexual information."
For teens, the center offers concrete tips, such as:
- Be smart about what you post on the web and what you say to others. The Web is a lot more public and permanent than it seems.
- Sexy pictures can get you into trouble with the law. If you are under age, they may be considered child pornography, a serious crime.
- Don't let friends influence your better judgment. If you are surfing with other kids, don't let them pressure you to do things you ordinarily wouldn't.
Common sense stuff, sure, but it works. And it's never too early to start.