KEEPING KIDS SAFE ONLINE
Advice from an FBI Cyber Agent
In late February, investigators on our Connecticut Computer Crimes Task Force (CCCTF) arrested two men for using an online social networking site to arrange sexual encounters with underage girls. Unfortunately, we’re coming across more and more child predators actively scouring the ‘net for victims. We spoke with Supervisory Special Agent Tom Veivia of the CCCTF’s Innocent Images program to learn how parents can keep their kids safe in cyberspace.
Q: A lot of kids these days are using social networking sites to meet other kids with similar interests. How concerned should parents be about these sites?
Tom: They should be concerned enough to educate themselves and their children. As these sites have become more popular, we’ve seen an increase in child predators using them to target kids. We’re working closely with the operators of many of these sites to detect and stop users who mean to do harm. We’d recommend that parents become familiar with these sites and explain to their kids how to stay safe on them.
Q: What specific advice do you have for parents?
Tom: Three main things. First, put your computer in your living room or family room so you can keep an eye on what your kids are doing. Second, use parental controls or blocking software to restrict what sites they can visit. Third, and most importantly, explain the risks to your kids. Tell them NOT to put photos of themselves on the Internet or to give out their names, addresses, phone numbers, schools, or other personal information online. Why? Child predators can—and have—used this information to find and track victims. Tell them to let you know the minute they get an inappropriate message online, then report it to the site and possibly to law enforcement. Unfortunately, we’re seeing more and more teens—good kids—engaging in risky online behavior like revealing too many details about themselves or agreeing to meet strangers they’ve chatted with online. Sometimes kids make innocent mistakes, but it’s our job as parents to help them understand the consequences.
Q: You’ve spent much of your FBI career working undercover on the Internet, tracking down child predators in some very disturbing cases. What keeps you going day after day?
Tom: Good question. Every year I ask myself how much longer I can keep doing this. Then we catch another person who’s sending out child porn or stalking kids in cyberspace. I don’t think as an agent—and a human being—you can get any greater satisfaction than knowing that you’ve helped put a child predator behind bars. That’s what keeps me and everyone here going.
Q: You have a photo of your young son taped to the side the computer you use to work these undercover investigations. Are you at all worried about him using the Internet when he gets older?
Tom: Not at all. We don’t need to be afraid of the Internet. We just need to teach our children well—how to use safe practices online.
Resources: Tips for Using Social Networking Websites | A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety | FBI Cyber Investigations