Chatting, socializing and downloading
The Internet has opened the door to our sophisticated society. No longer are sexual predators and thieves lonely, depressed, socially inept and down on their luck individuals.
Chat rooms are only one of the many avenues of social Internet networking. MySpace.com and Facebook.com are two of the fastest growing network sites today. These sites make it easy to post information about oneself. The first thing one does is post a profile with their name, town, interest, school, sexual orientation, books and movies they like. People get to know each other, share ideas and make and keep up with friends. However, one can easily post enough information about themselves with these topics alone to be abducted or become a victim of identity theft— enough information to have someone arrive at their door or make themselves at home inside a checkbook.
MySpace.com is the most popular networking site. It was founded in 2003 and has over 95 million members, with 500,000 new members each week.
Facebook.com is the seventh most popular site. It caters to the high school and college student. It was founded in 2004 by a couple of sophomores at Harvard University and has over 2.8 million users. It currently operates on 800 college campuses, adding 50 campuses a month.
These sites, which connect friends, also give predators an opportunity to find unsuspecting victims. They are dangerous to students. Online predators abduct and abuse those they meet on the Internet every day. Why would it be any different on a college campus?
Law enforcement offices across the country are monitoring MySpace.com and its users. A detective who monitors the site says it's a dangerous Web site, very dangerous. FBI Special Agent Patrick Kiernan agreed. "You are bringing the outside world into your house and strangers can come in through the internet just like they can come through your front door."
Several sex crimes have been connected to MySpace.com. It's a great source for predators, pedophiles and stalkers. Parry Aftab, Internet lawyer and safety expert: "It's one stop shopping for sexual predators, and they can shop by catalogue."
According to Rob Stafford of NBC news, in March, 2006 authorities have charged at least three men with sexually assaulting teens they found through MySpace.com and in the first week of April, police found a missing girl who investigators say was sexually assaulted by a 26 year old man she met through the site.
Last September, a 16 year old girl in Port Washington, NY was molested after a man she met on MySpace.com tracked her down because she had listed her workplace on her online profile, according to a USA Today article.
In another case, a 39 year old molested a Connecticut girl in his car while visiting from Pennsylvania last October, according to an FBI report. The FBI said he made several visits to see the girl between last summer and January. He's been charged with: Two counts of Sexual Assault 2nd degree, two counts of Sexual Assault 4th degree, four counts of Risk of Injury to a Minor, Unlawful Restraint and Breach of Peace.
California police say gang members are using the site. In Baltimore, a man is charged with murdering a woman he met online.
"Danny," profiled on MySpace.com, says he's "looking for a girlfriend" is a registered sex offender in the state of Arizona.
Predators luring girls via chat lines, authorities warn – She was lonely and looking for someone to talk to. He was the kind voice on the other end of the line who said he wanted to be her friend. But when they met at his house in New Hampshire, he raped her. He was a 32 year old convicted sex offender from Manchester.
A deputy press secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – was arrested at his Maryland home on charges he used his computer in an attempt to seduce a child and transmitted harmful materials to a minor.
Teacher suspected in online sex case – Authorities are investigating whether a Spring Lake Park High School teacher had an improper relationship with a former student after officials say they discovered him performing sexual acts via Webcam.
Lawyer arrested in Internet sex sting – Winfield police arrested a lawyer when he attempted to meet with a child at a park with the intent of having sex, whom he met in an Internet chat room, according to a release from the attorney general's office.
School worker arrested in molesting – Modesto police arrested a city school employee accused of molesting a boy he met in an Internet chat room.
College students check these sites the way business people check e-mail. At least 65% of all students are estimated to have profiles on MySpace.com, Facebook.com or other sites. Many students believe there is a degree of remaining anonymous in their postings. Students need to be aware these are public Websites and even the screening for potential employees is legal. This method allows employers to find out about the "you" that you don't hand to them in an application or resume. Anything posted is public information and can be used against a person. Some colleges have even expelled students for violating code of conduct after discovering photos of underage students posing in front of kegs or writing about binge drinking. Instead of seeing the Internet as just another means of communicating with others, as we would in person, it gives the idea or impression that physically we are secure from real-world dangers or responsibilities.
You've just settled into your new college room, met a few students on your floor and decided to go check out the local hang outs.
As you walk toward downtown, your excitement about being "free" is exhilarating. You can't wait to meet the world—and have the world meet you!
You stop at the first place that seems to be crowded with good music flowing through the door. You're seated at a table and place your order.
While waiting, a nice looking gentleman, your age, approaches and asks if you'd like to "chat." Your conversation begins slowly, sharing your likes and dislikes on music, movies and hobbies. He asks where you're from, where you go to school, your name—all innocent. He tells you how intelligent and pretty you are and how he relates to everything you have shared. As you "chat" and begin to get more comfortable, he ask if he can undress and if you'll do the same?
What? Sound far fetched? It's not. It happens thousands and thousands of times every day. The exact same scenario in front of a monitor, online in cyberspace.
The FBI warns that computer-based sex offenders may be any age or sex and predators do not always fit the image of a dirty old main in a raincoat. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "Nearly one in five American youths who've surfed the net regularly were the targets of unwanted sexual attention."
When meeting someone in person, we don't give them personal information. We don't tell them our full name, our phone number and where we live. We don't exchange pictures, agree to go with them to a secluded place or reveal information such as our checking accounts numbers, ATM passwords or credit card numbers. In fact, usually we don't even take what the person says at face value. Why would we do it online? We shouldn't!
Sexual predators and scam artist are constantly scanning the internet conducting numerous activities. Swapping pictures and personal information on people they have collected, participating in online chat rooms with the intention of meeting someone in person or using personal information to steal their identity and trading secrets they've learned on how to avoid the authorities.
The dangers of downloading information are as serious as giving information. Your computer could get infected by a virus, losing documents on your hard drive. You could unknowingly get connected to a telephone service overseas and be charged an outrageous telephone bill. Someone else could remotely control your computer or steal your documents from your hard drive. There are other examples such as "web advertising" and various malicious programs that pretend to be good and convenient, but are different from what they claim. These malicious programs, called malware and spyware, contain hidden files. They can be destructive by releasing a virus which could destroy programs, cause your system to crash, give someone access to your computer, track your browsing sites, steal passwords and even allow a person to gain control of your system.
When you transfer a file to your computer, you're downloading it. This can be done by the use of a CD, opening pictures or links from e-mail, copying documents, upgrading software and transferring music and games. These files are hidden and where you think you're downloading a game, the "game" is actually finding your credit card number in your computer and sending it to the attacker. Some hidden files are programmed to send the information to every address it finds. Where you think you're downloading a popular song, when opened, no song plays, your computer is infected and you're singing a different tune.
Never open attachments in e-mail or instant messages from strangers. Even if you know the sender, but the message arouses your suspicions, check before opening the attachment. If they didn't willingly send it, delete the e-mail or ignore the instant message.
The same goes for pop-up windows and banner ads. Be especially cautious of a link that accompanies a request for personal information, which reads, Click here.
Do not click Agree, OK or I Accept to close the advertisement. Instead, close the window by clicking X in the upper-right corner of the pop-up.
Download from reputable sites. Don't download from sites that contain objectionable material, make offers too good to be true or do not include a clearly written privacy statement.
Respect the law. Remember the words, music, software or video files you download are someone's original work. You risk serious legal trouble if you use copyrighted material without the permission of its rightful owner. Violating federal laws that govern the use of material can lead to fines and/or jail time.
Be cautious with certain file types. Files with names ending in .EXE, .COM, .BAT and .VBS can contain code, which if harmful, could damage your system.
Beware of P2P Networks (Peer-to-Peer). These are online communities where members share, search and download files located on their computers. Each member has its own collection of files which is shared with other members. There is no central computer where files are stored. To join, you must install a program (usually as a download off the Internet) on your computer. All members have the same software so transferring is possible. However, once you've downloaded the program, members can start downloading files from your computer. Examples of P2P networks are www.napster.com, www.gnutella.com, www.morpheus.com, www.kazaa.com, www.filetopia.com, www.limewire.com, www.shareaza.com, www.bittorrent.com.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: Personal Protection
The main safety rule is don't post too much identifying information, especially last names. Don't assume it'll never happen to you!
Don't forget that your profile is open to the public. Don't post anything you wouldn't want the world to know. Avoid posting anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find you.
People aren't always who they say they are. Be careful about adding strangers to your friends list. It's interesting and educational to meet people from all over the world, but avoid meeting people in person whom you do not fully know.
Remember, online postings can open the door to predators, identity theft, abduction and threats.
Set your site to "private" so only friends listed can view your information.
Be mindful of what your profile may say to a future employer or graduate school.