The Arizona Attorney General's Office uncovered two convicted sex offenders, one registered at the most dangerous level, using Internet chat sites to lure teenage girls.
Sex offenders using a false identity and information gathered from myspace.com. were able to get enough information in just two weeks to show up at the doorstep of a 14-year-old girl.
Representatives with Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard's office said that it is not uncommon to find sexual predators on sites like myspace.com and facebook.com using false identities to lure teenage boys and girls into dangerous situations.
As a result, parental supervision is the key ingredient in keeping kids safe from online sexual predators, said Community Outreach Coordinator Rob Stamp at an Internet Safety meeting on Tuesday, March 18 at the school district.
Stamp said there is a growing problem now with sexual predators using the Internet to gain access to teenagers' personal information because they can create false identities to gain the trust of potential victims as well as being used to bully people online.
"There is no silver bullet here, parents, schools and law enforcement need to work together to stop this at the beginning of the pipeline, not the end," said Stamp.
The attorney general wants people to be aware that online predators pose a real danger to both young people and adults, but the primary focus Tuesday night was teenagers' use of sites like myspace.com and facebook.com, which allow instant messaging and online chat.
Stamp said the old ways of weeding out possible child predators just do not work anymore because the Internet has opened a new window of opportunity for them.
"It used to be that people could often tell if someone might be a threat to their children because they would usually hang out near intended victims at places like schools and in neighborhoods where they would stick out and people could tell they didn't belong," said Stamp.
He said the anonymity of online identities and the lack of printable transcripts of instant messaging and online chat makes it difficult to catch online predators.
"There are two basic kinds of online postings, synchronic and asynchronic," Stamp said.
"Synchronic is things like instant messaging and online chatrooms and are extremely difficult to track because the postings change virtually instantly," he said.
"Asynchronic are more permanent postings that can be accessed and printed, but both pose problems because of the use of false identities," Stamp added.
The average age of kids using popular chat sites is 9 to 14 years old and the average young person spends between four and eight hours every day online, he said.
Payson resident Kay Houghton asked if federal authorities were doing anything to limit access to such chat sites.
Stamp said that because there is virtually no regulation of the World Wide Web, there is little federal or local government can do to block the sites and that is why parental supervision is key.
"To the credit of myspace, they are cooperating to help authorities weed out predators using their site, but the first line of defense has to be in the home," Stamp said.
He said some of the things parents can do to protect their children are to know the online jargon used by kids, limit the time they are allowed online and question them about their activity.
The other topic of the meeting was cyber bullying.
Cecil Jackson, a Phoenix Police officer and Co-Founder of recallalert.com, a site where teens and adults can anonymously report things like cyber bullying and suspicious online activity, said that online bullying and harassment are becoming big problems among teens.
"It's easier to be cruel when you are anonymous," he said,
"An average of about 18 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 8 reported being harassed online, with 62 percent coming from their own school."
He said that 81 percent of those questioned said they thought of online bullying as "funny."
"It isn't funny though," Jackson said. "Online harassment can result in severe depression to those being bullied and even suicide in extreme cases."
In a recent case, tips on alertrecall.com from anonymous teenagers at a Valley high school indicated that an unpopular girl at the school was the target of a rape threat.
Thanks to the anonymous tips, police were able to track the threat to its source and keep anything from happening.
The site Jackson co-founded, alertrecall.com, offers a place for teens and adults to report harassment anonymously.
He said that information posted on the site is forwarded to schools and school resource officers to investigate and possibly take action.
Resources for parents
Here are some tips and resources parents can use:
- Never allow children to give out personal information online;
- Look in on your; child when they are online and ask about their activity; and
- Limit time online.