Schenectady County

Internet trouble all too easy

Social networking sites are filled with potential dangers — everything from sexual predators to iden

Social networking sites are filled with potential dangers — everything from sexual predators to identity thieves seeking victims.

Retired New York City Police detective Thomas Grimes told Niskayuna parents Wednesday evening that the Internet allows people to come into contact with their children that they never would have had previously.

“This is the only access they might have to your kid’s life,” he said.

Van Antwerp Middle School counselors organized the presentation to increase awareness of Internet safety issues. Counselor Anne-Marie Hughes said there has been a lot of interest in this topic in light of an incident in the district last fall where three high school students received threatening emails, which directed them to a YouTube video that contained disturbing content. Niskayuna Police and the FBI reported this week there were no new developments.

Grimes wasn’t involved in cyber issues while on the force. He was a narcotics investigator. He got interested in the topic after an ugly cyber bullying incident in his sons’ Westchester County high school.

Grimes said parents need to resist the urge to point the finger at school officials, but to tell their children that they need to be compassionate and decent individuals who think about “the human being at the other end of every click.”

“It’s the 24-7 ability to hurt other people or help other people. If most kids helped other people, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Grimes offered a litany of horrific examples — most recently a 15-year-old girl in Yonkers who killed herself on Tuesday night because of cyber bullying from other students at her all-girls Catholic school.

He noted that cyber bullying often grows out of a broken relationship when people say nasty things to each other. He said an estimated 160,000 American children are afraid to go to school every year because they are being picked on. Grimes said the students themselves have to speak up for the person who is being bullied.

“The vast majority of the people are quiet about it; they’ve got to be loud about it,” he said.

The Virginia Tech rampage shooting in 2007 was the most high profile example of cyber stalking, according to Grimes.

Other students told police that Cho Seung-Hui was obsessed with checking out profiles of female students on Facebook. One particular student he tracked her every movement and showed up where she was. She ended up being his first victim during the shooting rampage.

“Facebook fed the obsessive nature of a homicidal student,” he said.

Grimes told parents that they need to sit down with their children and ask who they are friends with online. “If your kid has friends who are complete strangers to him or her, they have to be deleted,” he said.

Anonymous chat rooms like Chatroulette, which randomly connect people to anyone else in the world, are breeding grounds for people who seek to shock and offend, according to Grimes. There are many sex offenders who surf the web scanning for people to reveal personal information about themselves, like their hometown and date of birth, so they can target where they live.

“Things online are not always what they appear,” Grimes said.

He cited other incidents. In Great Britain, Ashleigh Hall, a 17-year-old girl, was raped, wrapped in plastic and killed by a man who was targeting women who looked like his ex-girlfriend. He claimed to be a 16-year-old boy that had struck up a friendship online. Alicia Kozakiewciz was abducted and tortured when she was 13 after she had arranged to meet another 13-year-old girl, Christine, outside Pittsburgh on New Year’s Eve. “Christine” turned out to be a man who burned and tortured her.

Facebook profiles should be set to private, Grimes said. People need to be cautious about who they are “liking” on Facebook.

Grimes taught one of his own sons a lesson about giving out personal information. His son was in the midst of transferring colleges freshman year and Grimes set up a dummy email account to say that the new college needed all kinds of personal information from him. The son complied and within a half hour, emailed him all kinds of personal information.

Grimes said parents also need to tell their children that once they put something in cyberspace, it lasts forever.

“Every mistake they’ve ever made online is broadcast for the world to see.”

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