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Special Report--

Kids should beware of computer dangers

May 22, 2006

Albany -- Do your kids use a computer? You should know that one in five children has been sexually solicited online.

The dangers facing our children nowadays are sophiscated and high tech. And now, they come in the form of fun-- MySpace.com.

If you have a teen with a computer, you can almost bet he or she has been there. And if YOU haven't been there, it's time for you to learn the dangers of MySpace.com.    

School's out and if you're wondering what your teenagers might be doing,  You can probably find them right here on MySpace.com. 80 million people now have spaces on this site and they're not just teens here to socialize.  

"A lot predators, predator-type pedophiles were going on this very website and were advertising themselves as 14, 15-year-old girls," said Sheriff's Investigator Craig Dodd.

And that's what worries mother of two, Karla Heath Sands.   "My biggest fear is that some stranger will make contact with her."  Karla's 14-year-old daughter is registered on MySpace.com.

That was news to Karla. "It was my Mom who actually told me that she had been there to MySpace.com and she had been on there."

So she set out to find out all she could about this website. "I didn't know all the material that was on MySpace." Some material, pornographic, that we can't even show you. What surprised her the most: "What teenagers feel that they either have to or that they can say about themselves, the photographs, the language."

But it's no surprise to veteran criminal investigator Lieutenant Craig Dodd. "It is a tool for people to use to do things that are illegal, such as predators, such as luring kids, such as sending pornography."

We sat down with him at a computer and randomly looked at the profile of an 18 year old girl in Alpharetta. "Like this right here. This is a bad idea. This girls right here, she's got herself on there in a very, very skimpy bikini," said Dodd.

Accompanied by dozens of other pictures and personal info out there for the world to see.  "It's really kind of like an open book to her life. 'Exactly. A lot more information than you really want to have out there about anybody.'"

It didn't take long for Karla to decide this should be off-limits to her young teen. "I questioned her about it and she told me that she had her own little space. There was no photo and after I sort of laid the law down she supposedly had not revisited it."

Or had she?  "I thought she was not accessing this and, no she does not have her picture up or anything like that, but the last log on, May 20th. That was this past weekend.

'Surprised?'

"Surprised. Because I thought she was not going back. We've had conversations about it. And she's been back on." 

Back on the site that millions of teens visit. A site that can possibly expose our children to modern, high-tech criminals.

"You're not going to let your child get out and walk two miles down the road somewhere nowadays," Dodd said. "It's just not safe anymore. The internet's the same thing. They're walking all over the country on a computer."

So what can you do? Arm yourself with information. There are lots of websites out there to give you tips on managing your child's internet exposure.  "With these blocker devices that you can get off the internet blocker programs, where it will save the entire history and it cannot be taken out without your password, whatever your password is, and that way you know exactly where your kids' going to," said Dodd.

And the advice from Karla?  "Even if you think you know what you're children are doing on the internet, you need to not only check, doublecheck, triplecheck."

Because checking up on them now, could protect them in the future. 

There are a lot of websites where you can go to become more internet savvy. Here are three of them. www.ProtectKids.org , www.netparents.org , and www.wiredkids.org .

They are by no means the only ones, though. So spend some time on the computer yourself. Learn all you can, talk to your kids and keeps your eyes and ears open.

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