Parents learn how to protect children’s safety, data online
U.S. district attorney office offers tips for monitoring internet activity
In an effort to provide the community with necessary information to keep children safe on the internet and secure their welfare, U.S. Attorney’s Office-District of Maryland community outreach specialist Vince DeVivo visited Dr. James Craik Elementary School in Pomfret on Tuesday to give a multimedia presentation called, “Innocence Stolen: Protecting Our Children Online.”
The presentation informed parents about how to best protect young people from negative and criminal influences online. DeVivo discussed an array of topics which included social networking, cyberbullying, online gang recruitment, photo sharing, sexting, texting acronyms and internet predators. He also shared internet safety resources along with prevention and intervention strategies.
When it comes to online safety, DeVivo said identity thieves look for specific pieces of information. According to Phoenix-based cybersecurity expert Mark Pribish, that information includes usernames, passwords and PIN numbers; Social Security numbers;
phone and utility account numbers; bank and credit card account numbers; employment and student identification numbers; driver’s license and passport numbers; insurance identification numbers; and information from college or university financial aid forms.
“Most of the sites that your kids use, and the fair number of sites that you use, are built and operated by millennials. And, high on their concern is not the safety, security or privacy of you or your family; it’s about making big bucks in the internet age,” DeVivo said. “There’s no such thing as internet privacy. Most of these sites set up privacy policies to give you a [false] comfort level so that you will give as much personal information about yourself as possible. It makes you more sellable as an online commodity.”
DeVivo said the internet is the nexus for a lot of criminal activity. Perhaps the biggest online threat that kids face are individuals called internet predators, who DeVivo said appear everywhere and
are active 24/7, 365 days a year.
“We’re all very trusting of the online experience, probably more so than we should be,” said DeVivo, who works out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, located in Baltimore, which investigates and prosecutes federal crime that occurs in or has a connection to the state. “I would not have to go far from this school building into the surrounding residential areas to find kids who are somewhere on the continuum, right now, being actively recruited by these individuals. And in many cases, the kids themselves won’t even know.”
“Typically, when we train law enforcement to go online and impersonate kids, it’s less than two hours before there’s credible threats. It’s very, very common,” DeVivo said. “[Internet predators] can find your kids on social media sites; that’s the obvious first choice. But they’re also on news groups, blogs, micro-sites, instant messaging and of course, lots of activity on the Xbox and Playstation [gaming] systems. They know that’s where kids are which makes them easy to find. This is part of why kids may sometimes
not even know what’s going on.”
Talking about the internet
DeVivo encourages parents to ask their children a series of questions that will help promote a safe and healthy learning environment. Parents should ask things like:
• How much does it cost to join Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites?
• What do you consider to be inappropriate material on the internet?
• Have you ever come across inappropriate content on the internet? What did you do?
• What would you do if you came across a popup of a naked person or hateful speech against a person or group?
• Would you feel comfortable telling me about anything you saw online that made you feel scared or uncomfortable? Why or why not?
“Kids will tell us certain things about the experience that they had with certain individuals,” DeVivo said. “When these conversations occur with kids, [internet predators] are going to appear to be at a very peer-to-peer level. They study everything,
from what’s in and what’s out to who’s hot and who’s not, to the point at which kids have told us that even after they suspected that the person they were communicating with is not their chronological age, they continue the conversations anyway. [Internet predators] will introduce sexual content to your child when they think your child is ready. That can be after weeks, months or in some cases, years of setting your child up online.”
DeVivo outlined eight specific golden rules for keeping children safe on the internet, the first of which he said applies in real life which includes courtesy, kindness, modesty, dignity and respect for the law and others. The other guidelines encourage kids to not talk to strangers; keep private information private; never agree to meet an online friend without permission from parents; be mindful that there are no guarantees about what is said or posted on the internet remaining private; remember that all information, including photos and videos, posted online can last forever; watch for apps
that are difficult to understand, have a hidden purpose or request access to one’s camera; and find good friends, websites or games online that are positive to enjoy.
According to DeVivo, www.netsmartz.org has helpful information about internet safety, including age appropriate videos, activities and other resources, for all students from elementary to high school.
In terms of online don’ts, DeVivo said students are advised not to post personal information online as it can be used by others to find out where they live; post their picture or pictures of their family as that can be copied, changed or used for location purposes; send any inappropriate photos or message by email or text; post plans and activities in a chat room or on personal websites; post entries that make it clear that no one is at their home; communicate with someone who has made them uncomfortable or afraid, and instead tell a parent or trusted adult; join online groups or games without talking to their parents; meet with someone whom they met online without telling a parent or guardian; post or respond to hurtful and inappropriate messages; click on any links that are unfamiliar or seem like an illegitimate source; buy any apps or in-app products without asking for permission; and not to enable any location services without an adult’s permission.
As for online do’s, DeVivo said students should remember that people
can lie online and say that they are something they are not. Someone who says they are a 12-year-old girl, for example, could really be an older man looking to harm other kids.
“It is my belief that no device should ever be in the hands of a child that is not regulated or have limits set,” DeVivo said. “They’re going to be watched for a while by predators before any contact is even initiated. These are patiently impatient people; they are very good at what they do.”
Other do’s include sharing passwords and saved messages, especially ones that are upsetting, with parents.
DeVivo said the U.S. Attorney’s Office is eager to partner with adults in promoting a safe and healthy learning environment for young people in their communities. Parents, teachers and community service providers play a critical role in securing the safety and welfare of children.
“You are not limited to your service provider. You can go off the menu and download software to place on a device, like a phone or laptop or desktop, and controls that will allow you to mirror every piece of incoming and outgoing data to a child’s device directly to yours,” DeVivo said. “The question is what is the appropriate level of monitoring?”
“I’m good with my kids hating me if it’s for the right reasons and I know what I would expose them to if I did not control their access to the internet,” DeVivo added. “I’m hoping that we can turn it around one day so that being hated as a parent is something to be appreciated for.”
DeVivo recommends that parents should teach their kids not to post identifying information on the internet; set a time limit for how much time their children can spend online; keep all computers in a separate room in the house instead of having an internet-accessible computer in the child’s bedroom; use parental controls provided by their internet service providers and/or blocking software; talk to their children about purchasing in-app products as well as using any location services on personal devices; conduct periodic checks on computers to include emails and messages; have access to all passwords; spend time with children online and learn about their favorite websites or friends while navigating through the web; know who their children frequently text and email; monitor internet access and texting communication with others; inform children about the dangers of internet predators; and watch for unexplained changes in their child’s behavior.
Most importantly, DeVivo said parents should not hesitate to seek help from law enforcement if they think an online predator may be targeting their children.
“The No. 1 thing that stood out for me is the awareness piece. Technology can be a good tool but we need to be very educated on the different apps and sites that we’re using, and our children,” said Michelle Beckwith, principal of Craik Elementary who has several children of her own. “I feel that our school system does a very good job at filtering and regulating those things. But as a parent, you want to leave here making sure that you’re well aware of what your children are searching online and the apps that they have on their phone.”
“I am a parent myself. My children do go to school here and I have a teenager,” Beckwith added. “What resonated with me is just looking at some of the social networking sites that are very popular. I feel that I’m very in tune with having [my teenager’s] password and checking his accounts. After listening to some of the back door information that [DeVivo] shared, it was kind of like an ‘aha’ moment. That was the awareness piece that I felt was important as a parent. I felt that I was educated enough to know what to look for, but clearly not enough. It was definitely a good takeaway for me.”
For more information on DeVivo’s presentation, send an email to vincent. email@example.com or call 410-209-4832.
U.S. Attorney’s Office-District of Maryland community outreach specialist Vince DeVivo gives a child internet safety presentation Tuesday at Dr. James Craik Elementary School in Pomfret. Discussion topics included social networking, cyberbullying, online gang recruitment, photo sharing, sexting, texting acronyms and internet predators.