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 February 17th, 2006  
Sheriff Mascara warns parents: Know what your kids are surfing online
 
It’s natural for teenagers to look for new friends at school and on the Internet.

But St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken J. Mascara is warning young people to be careful what they post. He also warns parents that they need to know what their children are posting online about themselves.

“For more than a year, we been warning parents and children about the dangers of children participating in online communications with people and giving personal information about themselves,” Sheriff Mascara said. “Families need to take these warnings seriously.”

“Within the past few days, one website popular with young people – myspace.com – has been featured on national news shows of NBC, CBS and ABC,” Sheriff Mascara said. “We started getting phone calls at the Sheriff's Office about myspace from parents who had never heard of it.

Myspace.com is a social networking site popular with teenagers. Information posted personal profiles has been a happy hunting ground for sexual predators and criminals, Sheriff Mascara said.

“Last September in New York state, a 37-year-old man sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl. He found out where she worked and tracked her there from information the girl posted on myspace.com,” said the Sheriff.

“Two months later, a 14-year-old girl posted information on myspace, claiming she was 17. Two hours later, her boyfriend shot and killed the girl’s parents. Police caught him the next day in Indiana,” Sheriff Mascara said.

Last week, the Attorney General of Connecticut began an investigation of myspace.com after as many as seven teenage girls were sexually attacked by men who stalked the girls with information they got on myspace.

“I don’t want to see a child’s innocence lost because we failed to let people know about the potential danger of myspace.com and other forms or Internet-based communication,” said Sheriff Mascara.

“Last year, a sexual predator from California traveled to our area meet a 14-year-old girl to have sexual contact with her. He did this after meeting her online,” the Sheriff said. “He did this twice. The third time, we arrested him. He is now in federal prison.”

He wasn’t the only one. Another man traveled here for a sexual encounter with a 15-year-old female victim. Sheriff’s investigators arrested him.

Sheriff Mascara said that some websites where young people can post information about themselves online can be used by predators to stalk teenagers.

“Myspace.com claims to have 52 million members,” Sheriff Mascara said. “Children can post information about themselves on easy-to-make websites. This can be dangerous.”

So dangerous that there have been reports in national media about teenage girls molested and murdered by Internet stalkers. “Parents should know what their children are doing online,” Sheriff Mascara said, “and parents need to talk frankly with their children about the danger of posting personal information.”

There are several hundred young people in St. Lucie County who use myspace.com, Sheriff Mascara said. Most are girls, and most of them live in Port St. Lucie. myspace.com tries to police its website to enforce its rules. One such rule is prohibiting those younger than 14 from participating. But it’s hard to detect people who lie about their age or other personal information.

Anyone posting information such as telephone numbers or home addresses is asking for trouble, the Sheriff said. “Posting a photograph of yourself in front of your car with the license plate showing can give a sexual predator enough information to find you,” Sheriff Mascara said.

“Our School Resource Deputies offer a class on Internet safety, thanks to Detective Suzanne Woodward, who keeps track of sexual predators in St. Lucie County and Detective Neil Spector, who investigates Internet-based sex offenders,” said Sheriff Mascara.

School-based deputies offer the course, which is called NetSmartz. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America helped prepare the course, which is distributed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice. Deputies offer the class to children of all ages in the schools and to parents.

Those who want more information are asked to call Lt. Kevin Dietrich, School Resource Unit, at 462-3392.

Sheriff Mascara has this advice for parents:

Set reasonable rules and guidelines for your child’s computer use, and make sure your child understands your rules.

Place your child’s computer in an open area of your home where you can see it.

Consider using software that can track your child’s computer use.

Depending on the type of cell phones your children have and the calling plans of the cell hpones, your children may be able to use their cell phones to take and transmit photos over the Internet. They may also be able to use their cell phones to send text messages over the Internet.

Visit websites such as wiredsafety.com or more information about protecting your child from Internet sexual predators.

On the myspace.com website, at the bottom of the home page, click the link called Safety Tips.

Here is Sheriff Mascara’s advice for teenagers about meeting people online:

If you are online and you receive an instant message or E-mail that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell a parent or teacher and do not respond to the message.

Never agree to get together in person with anyone you meet online.

Never disclose personal information, such as name, address, phone number or personal photographs.

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