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PTA Council Brings in Big Guns to Arm Parents in the Fight Against Online Child Predators

spivakDespite relentless and evolving efforts by online predators, parents can help protect their children through awareness, communication, education, and caution. That was the message at the Scarsdale Council of Parent-Teacher Associations-sponsored event on internet safety this Wednesday, April 19. For the presentation, the PTC brought two heavy hitters to advise parents on how they can protect their children from internet predators' latest schemes.

FBI Special Agent Aaron Spivak, an expert in online child exploitation crimes from the Crimes Against Children squad, and Mimi Rocah, Chief of the White Plains Division of the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (and Fox Meadow mom) presented the latest information on internet sexploitation. Agent Spivak discussed internet crimes the FBI sees frequently: production and trading of child pornography; crimes that begin with online meetings and end in abduction, sex trafficking, or abuse; and online enticement of minors, a phenomenon known as "sextortion." Sextortion reports were up 150% within the first several months of 2016 compared to the number of reports in that same time-frame in 2014, and the FBI has described sextortion as "by far the most significantly growing threat to children."

In sextortion schemes, predators will use non-physical forms of coercion, such as blackmail, to acquire sexual content such as photos or videos of children or to compel in-person meetings. For example, a perpetrator disguised as another student gets a potential victim to send a slightly racy picture or to reveal personal information. Then, he threatens to make the photo or information public unless the victim does as the perpetrator instructs. The victim feels s/he has no choice and complies. Special Agent Spivak gave an example of a ruse a perpetrator used to hack into adolescents' email accounts. He would then use the information he gathered from his dealings with the adolescents or information he found in their emails to blackmail the children, threatening to email their contact lists or otherwise expose them unless they complied with his requests.

Agent Spivak and Chief Rocah both stressed that online perpetrators, some of whom are very sophisticated in their approaches, come from all socio-economic and educational backgrounds, as do their victims, who are as young as six but most commonly aged 10-12. Therefore, it is important that all parents teach their children that people they meet online are not always who they claim to be. Additionally, parents can help prevent crimes by encouraging their kids to come to them if they encounter anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable.

roachThe informative presentation ended with a question and answer period for the speakers, after which Mr. Jerry Crisci fielded questions from parents in his capacity as Director of Instructional Technology and Innovation of the Scarsdale Public School System. He discussed student education on digital citizenship (which encompasses appropriate use of technology and includes internet safety) that is taking place on some level at all Scarsdale schools and listened to suggestions from parents to bring in experts such as FBI Special Agent Spivak to help get through to students, particularly before the summer break when children have more time to access the internet. He also addressed questions regarding teachers' Twitter feeds and online privacy of students. Finally, he discussed the balance between the District's need to demonstrate its progress with students with student privacy.

Major Takeaways from the Presentation?
PARENTS:
Do not hesitate to immediately call law enforcement if you suspect victimization, no matter how seemingly minor. Even if it seems like an incident is not worth prosecuting or you only have partial information, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline (1-800-843-5678) maintains a database and together with other tips, your tip could be used to help catch a predator.

Teach your children to be cautious while using the internet. Even from a young age, children can and should be taught that people they meet on the internet are not necessarily who they say they are. At older ages, children can be armed with knowledge about predator schemes, etc., that will help protect them from being victimized.

Set parental controls at age-appropriate levels and use filtering and monitoring tools as a complement—not a replacement—for parental supervision

Monitoring your children is important. Offenders find children on Xbox, Youtube, Instagram, and many other sites children use every day. Many crimes have been discovered by parent vigilance. Checking your child's history to see what websites s/he has accessed, keeping computers in a public area of the home, and supervising internet-enabled devices can help protect them.

Be alert to warning signs of contact with an online predator such as your child being secretive about online activities, being obsessive about being online, withdrawal from family and friends, and changing screens or turning off computer when an adult enters the room.

Communication is extremely important. Particularly in the sextortion schemes, perpetrators can lose their power if students are able to bring their fears to their parents.

Preserve evidence. The FBI presentation slide states to always contact law enforcement and that your child will not be prosecuted for possessing images.

If you're thinking about calling, don't wait! Cyberpredators can change IP addresses, erase evidence, or take other evasive maneuvers.

RESOURCES:
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's website has cyber-safety resources for parents, educators, law enforcement and children, including videos for various ages and links to websites to help children and families in the fight against online predators.

InternetSafety101 has age-specific guidelines about how to protect children from cyber attackers.

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