Students and parents need to be careful with social networking sites

Children and parents around Madison County need to be diligent in protecting themselves from sexual predators, who are using websites like Facebook and MySpace to target kids, said a state investigator specializing in Internet crimes against minors.

Sexual predators use social networking websites to make inroads with minors, said Gary Seder, an agent with the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation in Billings.

This isn’t new, but is something that is continuing to evolve as websites, like Facebook, gain popularity with kids, Seder said.

Seder is assisting on two investigations in Madison County. Neither case involves predators making physical contact with minors, he said. Fortunately, in both cases the victims responded appropriately and quickly when approached.

Seder wasn’t able to go into more detail because the investigations were ongoing.

Generally, sexual predators will observe kid’s profiles on Facebook and MySpace, just paying attention to what they like and who their friends are before they approach them.

On social networking sites, like Facebook, people can become “friends” with each other and thereby sharing all the personal information a person has put on their profile pages. Predators take advantage of this.

“They monitor and watch the kids for awhile before they really approach them,” Seder said.

Once a predator approaches a child, he or she will pretend to be a friend.

“They try to build up a relationship on what they’ve learned from watching and chatting with these kids,” he said.

Pretty soon the predator is trying to get the child to post nude photos or be nude on a Web cam, Seder said.

A predator can use these photos to manipulate the child into providing them their passwords or to solicit other inappropriate photos or material, he said. Ultimately, the goal is to make contact with the child.

“Ultimately they would definitely try to meet them in person,” Seder said.

What people have a hard time realizing is that their website profiles are often open to anyone in the world who uses the Internet, he said.

“I think a lot of it is just because there’s such a huge use of the Internet now,” Seder said.

He is also a member of the Internet Crimes Against Children taskforce that tries to address these problems.

The first step in protecting kids is to make sure their parents understand the problem and talk to them about their Facebook and MySpace pages, he said.

“Don’t friend people unless you’ve met them in person and you know who they really are,” Seder said. “I also ask the parents to watch your kids’ accounts.”

Also, it’s important for kids to never give their passwords to anyone beside their parents, he said.

Seder recently gave presentations to students around Madison County, talking to them about ways to protect themselves from Internet predators.

It’s important for school officials to be proactive in providing students and parents with information about Internet predators, said Sheridan principal Jory Thompson.

Facebook and MySpace pages are blocked on school computers, Thompson said. But as technology advances kids are definitely on the social networking sites more and more.

At the school, teachers and school officials, meet with small groups of kids to talk about these kinds of sensitive subjects, he said. Additionally, he tries to bring in people, like Seder, to provide more education for students.

Kids and parents both need to understand how much information can be accessed by people through the Internet if they’re not careful, Seder said.

“When you’re dealing with the Internet, once you have Internet in the home this can happen over night,” he said.

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