There's a stranger on the Web

Deputy warns of danger to children on the Internet

Deputy warns of danger to children on the Internet

February 28, 2007|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A career in law enforcement didn't prepare Washington County Sheriff's Department Deputy 1st Class Dan Watson for what he found online.

With just 20 minutes of sleuthing, the host of an Internet-safety program shows parents how easy it is for a complete stranger to use information from an online profile to find out a child's name, address, hobbies and daily routine.

"Isn't that crazy? Twenty minutes. That shocked me when I did this," said Watson, who navigated through the program during an interview Thursday.

With the program from, which is affiliated with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Sheriff's Department is prepared to teach parents, children and community members about Internet safety, Watson said.


Watson said he presented the course to a Boy Scout troop.

Online encounters between child users of the Internet and predators are not uncommon, said Sgt. Chris Howard, who posed as a teenager in the Sheriff's Department's first online sting.

"I would tell people, 'Do not give any identifying information to anybody you do not absolutely know,'" Howard said.

In a study by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, one in seven children reported being solicited online.

The program Watson presents includes stories from children who have been victimized. In one, "Julie" talks about running away from home with a man she met online.

"When I was 13, I started talking to Tom. He didn't act or sound like a 56-year-old man," a female voiceover said as the video played on the computer in Watson's office.

Howard and Watson said they believe children should only be allowed to use the Internet on computers that are easily monitored by adults. Children need to understand that they must not give out any information that would help strangers find out their ages or addresses.

"The thing that I hate is when parents get these computers and hook them up in their (children's) bedrooms," Watson said.

In Washington County Public Schools, students are allowed online only for educational purposes, said Arnold Hammann, director of information management and instructional technology.

Each year, the students get a refresher on Internet safety, and next year, the school system plans to adapt a course from, Hammann said. This year, the school system is piloting a program at two high schools, where students have been assigned individual log-in codes so their use can be tracked.

"Parents need to take an active role. I think computers need to be in an open place, (such as) a family room, so that you can always see what's going on. I think sometimes parents are a little too trusting," Hammann said.

Hammann said the school system eventually will assign unique log-in codes to all students, beginning when they enter kindergarten. That way, not only can their Internet surfing be tracked, but the students and their teachers will have access to all of their work, Hammann said.

Students who misuse the Internet can lose their computer privileges at school, Hammann said.

Howard acknowledged that protecting children online is a matter of balancing oversight with trust. By using monitoring software, parents can know what sites their children visit, while letting their children know they are watching.

"It's not that you can't trust your kids, it's that you can't trust anybody else," Howard said.

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