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Vigilance key to monitoring kids' Internet use

By: Doug Snover

Oct. 21, 2006

Thousands of teenagers log on to every day to share their thoughts and dreams and experiences with kids their own age and “friends” they may never have met.

Bill Kalaf, a computer forensics specialist, wants the parents of those teens to understand that there are very real dangers out there in cyberspace--dangers that could invade your wallet or even your home.

The Internet and Web sites like MySpace are ubiquitous, says Kalaf, 57, a Kyrene Corridor resident who operates Computer Forensic Investigators and does consulting work for Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

Unplugging your home computer won’t protect your children, he says.

Kalaf’s advice, included in the Tempe Union High School District’s No Parent Left Behind University program for adult education, was offered Oct. 18 during a workshop at Corona del Sol High School.

Kalaf recommends that parents understand the threats – ranging from sexual predators to identity theft – of having children post information about themselves on sites such as MySpace, where users can create their own web pages complete with photos, message boards and personal profiles.

After viewing his presentation on children who are seduced, molested or even murdered by people they met online, parents’ first reaction often is to “rush home and turn off the computer,” he acknowledges.

Rather than forbid children from visiting MySpace and similar sites, Kalaf suggests parents form a compact with their children that the parent will monitor how the children use MySpace without interfering.

“Restricting your children from the Internet because of fear does not work,” he said. “Kids will go someplace else” to go online.

Children will use computers at school, the home of friends or the local library to keep up their Internet connections, he said.

One of the scariest aspects of Kalaf’s presentation is his conclusion that online predators – whether they are seeking sex with underage children or access to parents’ bank accounts – are well organized and use sophisticated research techniques to learn about their possible victims.

It’s called “grooming,” Kalaf said – building profiles on young people that predators can use to track them down, lure them into child pornography or blackmail them into revealing their parents’ credit card numbers.

“The idea is to force them into doing something they don’t want to do,” often by threatening to contact the youths’ parents and expose the children’s Internet secrets, he said.

Some online predators build profiles on hundreds, even thousands, of youths – and sometimes offer them for sale or trade to other online predators, Kalaf said.

“It’s not the electronics you need to worry about. It’s the information. It’s building the human case against them (your children).”

“Most parents don’t realize that this whole stalker/pedophile program is not one person and one kid. They have profiles and they sell information,” he said.

Many MySpace accounts have restricted access. The user must accept someone as a “friend” before that person can access his or her page.

But predators lie about who they are, and many young people are indiscreet about accepting new “friends,” Kalaf said.

“If you have over 100 ‘friends’ on your blog, do you really know all those people?” he asks MySpace users.

Kalaf’s presentation uses examples pulled from headlines and television news reports – examples that many people have already seen but perhaps have not fully understood.

From high school students who post their plans online for committing “another Columbine” to Internet sex predators meeting young boys and girls in online chat rooms and quickly turning the conversation to sex before suggesting a real-life meeting.

He shows examples of chat room conversations in which a stranger turns the talk toward sex within minutes of meeting someone online and suggests a rendezvous after about 10 minutes of online “chat.”

One particularly example focuses on a man who posted his plan to murder the young girl next door long before he actually did.

Kalaf suggests parents routinely Google their own names and their children’s names to learn what information is available online. The mother of the murdered girl said afterward that she might have prevented the attack simply by researching her daughter’s online information, he noted.

“You should be doing that once a month, once a quarter, whatever you think is appropriate,” he said.

Perhaps the best plan is for parents to work with their children to protect the Internet experience, he said. Parents should ask what they, as parents, can do to help their children use the Internet safely, and ask what the children want from the parents to protect the privacy of their Internet use.

You’ve got to build that bond and be aware,” he said.


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