With cyber crimes against kids on the rise, APD urges parents to be proactive about digital safety
Local and national law enforcement agencies say cyber crimes against children are on the rise.
The FBI receives hundreds of complaints a year about children that have been victims of cyber criminals on social networks, according to its website.
Anchorage Police Department detective Leah Davies is part of the cyber crimes unit where she investigates crimes against children, which she says is a growing problem as technology becomes more sophisticated.
She said, first and foremost, parents need to realize their job is to parent their children, not to be their friends.
"Our job is to teach them and to help them stay safe and so one of the best ways to do that is to simply go through your child's device every so often," said Davies. "Know what their passwords are. When their passwords are changing, that should be a pretty big red flag that there is something on the device that the child doesn't want the parent to see."
Davies said parents need to let their children know they are being monitored, and, if there are concerns, parents shouldn't be afraid to ask tough questions.
She also suggests having children ask permission to download apps and for parents check them out before giving consent. She said parents should make sure privacy settings are set so that only friends can see photos or other postings your child might make. And always emphasize never to share information, texts or video with people they don't know.
"If you don't know who that person is, if you wouldn't invite them over to your house, you probably shouldn't be friending them on Facebook, or friending them on Instagram or friending them on Snapchat," said Davies. "If you only know their name, they probably aren't a real friend who needs to see what your whole life consists of."
Davies said parents might want to consider disabling the webcams that are built into laptops so that children can't video chat with strangers. That can be done in the settings function, or more simply by putting a piece of tape over the camera. Davies said parents might not even be aware when their children are talking with strangers, including when they play games which have a live chat function.
"Your child may be in their bedroom playing a game, and it may be a harmless game, you think, but the predators are out there," said Davies. "They know how the games work and they know how the live chats work, so they are, basically, making face-to-face contact with your child in your own home, unbeknownst to you."
Davies said predators frequently search out teens and young victims at night when their parents are asleep. She said for that reason parents might want to consider putting devices in a safe place at night, out of reach, or turning off the home Wi-Fi at a certain hour.
The FBI's website states that, most importantly, parents should be aware and be involved.
- Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep your Internet computer in an open, common room of the house.
- Tell your kids why it’s so important not to disclose personal information online.
- Check your kids’ profiles and what they post online.
- Read and follow the safety tips provided on the sites.
- Report inappropriate activity to the website or law enforcement immediately.
- Explain to your kids that once images are posted online they lose control of them and can never get them back.
- Only allow your kids to post photos or any type of personally identifying information on websites with your knowledge and consent.
- Instruct your kids to use privacy settings to restrict access to profiles so only the individuals on their contact lists are able to view their profiles.
- Remind kids to only add people they know in real life to their contact lists.
- Encourage kids to choose appropriate screen names or nicknames.
- Talk to your kids about creating strong passwords.
- Visit social networking websites with your kids, and exchange ideas about acceptable versus potentially risky websites.
- Ask your kids about the people they are communicating with online.
- Make it a rule with your kids that they can never give out personal information or meet anyone in person without your prior knowledge and consent.
- If you agree to a meeting between your child and someone they met online, talk to the parents/guardians of the other individual first and accompany your kids to the meeting in a public place.
- Encourage your kids to consider whether a message is harmful, dangerous, hurtful, or rude before posting or sending it online, and teach your kids not to respond to any rude or harassing remarks or messages that make them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused and to show you the messages instead.
- Educate yourself on the websites, software, and apps that your child uses.
- Don’t forget cell phones! They often have almost all the functionality of a computer.
The agency has put together a Safe Online Surfing website to teach kids in grades 3 - 8 about how to protect themselves. Teachers can sign up for access, but the site can also be used by parents and their children.
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