On-line friendship turns out to be hoax - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

On-line friendship turns out to be hoax

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May 19, 2008

Lee County -- According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 69% of teens receive personal messages online from people they don't know, and most don't tell a trusted adult.

But the danger could also come from someone your teen thinks they know. It happened to a Leesburg teen who found out someone she thought she could trust turned out not to be the friend she though he was.

Parents never want to think someone might be targeting their child in your hometown, your neighborhood, even inside your home. Leesburg Police say it happens, and most recently a 15-year-old Leesburg girl became an online target. 

"You can't ever tell who might be involved in this," says Leesburg Police Sgt. James Vick.

The Leesburg teen joined a 3-D virtual chat room called IMVU. It's where she met 17-year-old Jessie and his 15-year-old girlfriend both from Clarkstown, New York. The girlfriend dropped out, but Jessie chatted with the teen for more than a year. Last month her mother got concerned and got police involved when disturbing images turned up on her daughter's computer.

"He had portrayed himself as Emo, emotionally distraught kids, there were actually pictures of him where he cut himself. He had supposedly been abused by his father," Vick said.

"The mother was so concerned about the relationship that the daughter had been talking about running away from home and going to Clarkstown, New York to meet Jessie under the impression that they were going to live out their lives together because she was so infatuated with him," Vick said.

Now police believe those disturbing images were most likely not real, and it turns out Jessie wasn't who the teen thought he was.

"It turns out it was the 15-year-old girl that was actually keeping the conversation, portraying herself as the 17-year-old Jessie.

Police say it's a perfect example of the mind games many predators play on unsuspecting teens, who are looking for anyone to reach out and talk to them.

"That's what's real scary about the Internet because anybody can get on there and just pretend they are someone else, make up a fictitious name, anything," said Vick.

Now Leesburg Police are urging parents to talk to their teens about the dangers of online chatting. They say teens need to be careful what they send and who they're sending it to.

After talking with the New York teen's parents, both Clarkstown, New York Police and Leesburg Police decided not to press charges and have chalked it up to a lesson learned for both teens.

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