Are your children safe on the ‘net?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 12, 2010

Like most parents, Teresa Mossman had seen the TV reports and heard the horror stories about Internet predators.

But a recent incident hit too close to home for the Deering mom.

Mossman said her 12-year-old daughter was contacted through Facebook by a man whose profile said he was 28 years old and lived in Hamilton.

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Mossman said her daughter received 10 to 12 private messages on Aug. 31 asking where she lived, what school she attended and if they could be friends.

Mossman said that even though her daughter did not accept the friend’s request, he still had access to her list of friends. She also said that one message asked her daughter to call the individual and gave a phone number.

A police report was filed with the sheriff’s office on Sept 1. Mossman also contacted her daughter’s middle school, Dawson-Bryant.

“My daughter is terrified,” said Mossman. “She doesn’t want to be home alone. It really had an impact on her.”

Mossman also said that one of her daughter’s eighth grade friends was also contacted by the same person through private Facebook messages. “I’m mad as heck that this guy scared my daughter,” Mossman said.

She also has a warning for Facebook users.

“You should set your privacy settings for ‘friends only’,” she said. “This warning doesn’t just apply to kids.”

She also warned that you should never reply to someone that you don’t know.

“Even adults need to be aware of the danger of adding people they don’t know.”

Sheriff Jeff Lawless said that the person contacting Mrs. Mossman’s daughter did not actually do anything criminal, so no charges could be filed.

“We contacted the Butler County Sheriff’s Department and asked them to keep an eye on him,” Sheriff Lawless said. “He randomly sends out mass mailings in hopes that someone will respond.”

Michael Jacobs, the Sexual Offender and Registration Notification Investigator (SORN) for the Butler County Sheriff’s Department, is familiar with the individual.

“He’s done this before,” Jacobs said. “He is a tier three sex offender.”

Tier three offenders must register with address verification every 90 days for life.

According to Deputy Jacobs, the individual is no long on parole.

“It’s so easy for these predators to lure these girls out,” said Jacobs.

He said that predators look for clues in photos, such as school T-shirts. They would then be able to go to a local library in the area of that school and look at yearbooks to find the names of children.

“If I had a son or daughter, there would be no Facebook or MySpace and limited computer access,” said Jacobs.

Sheriff Lawless also said that, “Children and parents have to use common sense. Always watch what your children are doing.”

He also suggests keeping home computers in a common family area, so parents can monitor what their children are viewing or who they are talking to.

Dennis DeCamp, superintendent of Dawson-Bryant Local Schools, is also aware of the situation.

“I applaud the parent for knowing what was going on,” he said. “We try to educate our kids and parents as much as possible.”

In an effort to educate children about the dangers of Internet predators, Jeanie Harrison, counselor at Dawson-Bryant Middle School, holds cyber safety classes.

On Thursday, she spoke to a sixth grade class about how to use social networking sites safely.

“I know you guys hear about stuff like this on the radio, or see it on TV, but it’s starting to happen here,” she said about the recent Facebook incident.

“If you don’t know them, don’t talk to them,” she also said. “And just because you have friends in common, doesn’t mean you know the person.”

She said she likes to do these discussions in smaller groups through out the year, rather than in a big assembly.

“I feel like in small groups it becomes more personal,” she said. “They are more sincere in small group settings.”

Sixth grader Jacob Bentley said his mother monitors his Facebook account and approves his friend requests.

“I think it’s good, because I do think it’s kind of freaky that people would do something like that,” Jacob said about the cyber safety class.

Another student in the class, Bailey Ackerson, agreed that Internet safety is important.

“I think it’s important so you don’t get stolen and so parents can track what you are doing.”

Mrs. Harrison also stressed the misconception that people are not always who they say they are, or how old they are or are from where they say they are from.

She also suggested taking a look at their online profiles to see if there is too much personal information contained on them.

“It’s a shame we live in a society where we have to warn you about so many things, and not to trust people, “ she said. “But the reality of it is, we love you and we need you to be safe. You guys need to know what to look for.”