St. Charles Herald-Guide

Sheriff warns of cyber predators

By Michael Luke - February 1, 2006

MySpace and AIM hotbeds of crime
Recently, in Baker County, Ore. - a small rural community a quarter the size of St. Charles Parish - a 37year-old man molested a 16 year-old girl after they met on Myspace.com, a popular Internet community for kids. The man misrepresented himself when they exchanged messages online with the teen. Then, he showed up at the girl's after-school job, followed her to the parking lot, forced her in his car and attacked her. The assailant knew where she worked because she posted it on her MySpace profile.

Sheriff warns of cyber predators
This is the dark side to teen blogging and social networking," said St. Charles Parish Sheriff Champagne. "Along with their favorite band and best friends, kids are blogging phone numbers, class schedules and other personal information that make them vulnerable to anyone who wants to track them down." Along with MySpace, AIM (AOL Instant Messanger) is another popular place where children interact.

In the past ten years, the Internet has become one of the simplest and straightforward sources of information and formany teens it has replace the telephone as their primary form of communication.

But the downside is that the web has also become the cyber predator's best and most efficient tool for stealing private information, or worse, harming children. "Cyber crime appears to be boundless in targeting its victims, too. It knows no age limits," said Champagne.

Although intrusive, Champagne suggests knowing when children are online and whom they are online with as keys to safety. "A proactive approach to online safety, especially when children are out of school and online activity rises markedly, is the key to ensuring safety," he said.

Statistics show that 6 out of 10 children received an email or instant message from a perfect stranger and more than half responded. Even more alarming, one in 33 children were aggressively solicited to the meet their cyber contact in person. Of all age groups, teenagers are particularly at risk, due to their increased independence. The amount of unsupervised time they spend online and increased likelihood that they will participate in an online discussion regarding relationships, companionship or sexual activity all lend to an increase in vulnerability.

Maj. Sam Zinna said, "We've never had any arrests in regard to cyber predators in St. Charles Parish," saying most Internet crimes in parish that occur are identity theft cases. That does not make it an island of safety, as Zinna added, "We have investigated incidences where the parents have come to us with concerns about what was going with their kids and who ever else was at the end of the keyboard."

Although Zinna said the cases were a "rarity," he said that might be a problem, as it decreases parental awareness; it creates an atmosphere of compliancy and a false sense of security, particularly in a community like St. Charles that may seem distant and remote from hubs of crime. As the online world has grown, it has made anyone who connects via the web a potential victim. Along with exercising caution, Zinna said that monitoring a child's online activity is essential.


Sheriff warns of cyber predators