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Students learn to surf safe on Web

October 31, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - More than half of the seventh-grade students in the Chambersburg Area Middle School auditorium stood Monday morning when Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett asked if they had Web pages with MySpace.com, Xanga or other social networking Web sites.

Corbett followed by asking those older than 14 to sit down. Few did.

"You guys lied," Corbett told the audience, explaining that the age to sign up for MySpace is 14. The state's chief law enforcement officer told the students they should go home and remove their names from the network.

"It's an honor system, MySpace tells us, and you didn't keep up your end of the bargain," said Corbett, who was promoting his office's Operation Safe Surf.

Corbett was there to warn the students that the white lies they tell online about their ages and the truths about their lives could open the door to Internet sexual predators.

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He said an agent given the Internet screen name of one girl was - within half an hour - able to learn her real name, age, address, school, that she was upset with her parents, that she played field hockey and a schedule of the games, a map to her home and even a satellite photograph pinpointing the house.

"That's what you risk with a screen name," Corbett told the audience of about 380 students.

The presentation included one Internet horror story about a 13-year-old Connecticut girl murdered by a 24-year-old man she met through a chat room. Since taking office less than two years ago, Corbett said six agents assigned to the Child Predator Unit to track down Internet predators in Pennsylvania have conducted investigations leading to charges against 60 people.

One of them, Steven Umbrell of Dry Run, Pa., in Franklin County, was charged after he attempted to meet an underage girl, who turned out to be an agent posing as a child. Umbrell later pleaded guilty to attempted unlawful contact with a minor and unlawful use of a computer, and was sentenced to 11 1/2 to 23 months in jail and 20 years on probation, according to one of the agents.

"We know there's others out there," he said.

Afterward, Corbett said computers with Internet access should be in common rooms of the house - where parents can monitor Internet activity - not in children's bedrooms.

Corbett said he has given a half-dozen presentations on Operation Safe Surf to students, but another 300 attorneys from around the state have been trained in the program to serve as advocates. One problem is that children are often more technologically savvy than adults, he said.

"We need to design a program for those who really need to be talked to - parents," he said.

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