San Diego

Accessibility Tools

Internet and Cell Phone Dangers

Although the vast majority of online services and Internet material is legitimate and benign, there have been numerous incidents of children receiving pornographic material, providing personal information under the pretext of possibly winning a prize, or sending money for promised benefits or products. Warning signs of these dangers include excessive late-night computer use, secretive behavior about computer associates, hidden files or directories, and password-protected bios, files, or logical drives.

If you are not familiar with computers, the Internet, and social networking you should visit www.NetSmartz411.org, the premiere Internet-safety helpdesk and hotline, to help educate yourself. You should also sit down with your children to have them show you the websites they visit, how they navigate through the Internet, and how they use social networking sites. To better understand the latter you should try networking yourself. This is a great way to connect with your children on computer-related matters.

You should do the following to minimize Internet dangers that your children may encounter:

  • Start early. Talk to your children about online behavior, safety, and security as soon as they start using a computer, cell phone, or any mobile device. Supervise closely the choice of websites for young children. Continue to monitor online activities as your children get older and more independent.
  • Set reasonable guidelines and time limits for Internet and cell phone use, and social networking. Prohibiting Internet use is not a good idea because it is too easy for children to establish accounts at a friend’s house or many other places. But do set time limits on computer use. People, not computers, should be their best friends and companions.
  • Keep the computer in the family room or other area where its use can be monitored. Don’t allow computers and mobile devices such as laptops and smart phones to be used in your children’s bedrooms. And don’t allow your children to have separate passwords and log-on names.
  • Post clear, simple, easy-to-read rules for Internet use on or near the computer. Discuss these rules with your children and make sure they understand the reasons for them. Visit www.NetSmartz.org for examples of rules and safety tips. Your supervision and attention is the best way to protect your children when using the Internet.
  • Know what Internet access your children have away from home, i.e., at a friend’s home, libraries, schools, and cell phones and other wireless devices, and have a plan to monitor their online activities there as well as at home.
  • Initiate conversations with your children about their Internet use. Communicate your values, be patient and persistent, and don’t rush through conversations. Encourage your children to come to you with any problems they encounter online.
  • Make sure they understand the importance of password and privacy protection, and not to share passwords or log-on names with anyone else. And don’t let them use their pet’s names as passwords.
  • Have your children request your permission to exchange phone numbers or meet another child they have "talked" to online. Consider talking to the other child’s parents about a meeting and accompanying your child to the meeting, which should be in a public place. Tell your children that caution is needed because people online are not necessarily who they might seem to be.
  • Discourage your children from visiting chat rooms, especially those with video, even if they claim to be child friendly. Persons who would harm children use these websites to entice children.
  • Use filtering software to scan for offensive words and phrases in chat rooms and then end the conversations by signing off.
  • Install a browser that limits the websites that your younger children can visit to those vetted by educational professionals. Some will send you periodic e-mails that detail you children’s Internet activity.
  • Install a monitoring service like McGruff SafeGuard. It’s free and also scans any chat or text conversations for bad language and other inappropriate communications. Go to www.gomcgruff.com for details of this service.
  • Have your children promise not to turn off any programs you might install to monitor their computer use.
  • Understand how online services work.
  • Check the computer’s cache and history to see what websites have been accessed.
  • Ask your children for their passwords and log-on names, and to share their blogs and online profiles with you. Be aware that they can have multiple accounts on multiple services. Search for you children’s identifying information and monitor their screen name(s) and websites for inappropriate content. Also monitor their texts to make sure they are not receiving any threatening or harassing messages, or are sending, receiving, or saving any sexts.
  • Learn the meaning of the acronyms your children use in texting. Go to www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php for a list of acronyms and their definitions, e.g., PAL means parents are listening.
  • Make sure your child’s screen name does not reveal any identifying information such as name, age, location, school. A screen name should be benign and innocuous, e.g., the first letter of each word in an easily-remembered phrase.
  • Prohibit your children from downloading any games, movies, programs, etc., trying to win "free" things, or buying things without your permission.
  • Tell your children it’s not safe to put photos or any type of personally identifying information on a personal website without privacy settings, even if they promise to give the website address to people they know. Anyone in the world can access such a website. Also, personally identifying information should not be published on a group website or in an Internet yearbook. Group photos are preferable to individual photos only if no names are published.
  • Have your children ask permission before listing any adults as "friends" online, even if they are teachers, relatives, or your friends.

Children who use social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace should be warned about online predators and harassers. They should be taught to do the following to prevent and deal with any problems that might arise:

  • Never to give out your name, address, phone number, or any other personal information that can identify you. Avoid posting anything that would enable a stranger to find you, e.g., school names. Members’ profiles become public information.
  • Never say you are home alone.
  • Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want the world to know, especially anything or language that might embarrass you later, e.g., in applying for college or a job. What’s uploaded can be downloaded and passed around by others and be posted online forever. It can’t be taken back even if it’s deleted from a site.
  • Never send out any pictures of yourself, family members, or friends.
  • Be careful about adding strangers to your list of "friends." People aren’t always who they say they are.
  • Come to me to discuss any harassment, hate speech, and inappropriate content you receive.
  • Check comments regularly. Ignore and don’t respond to any that are mean or embarrassing. Just log off if the harassment bothers you.
  • Avoid misleading people into thinking you are older or younger than you are.
  • Don’t talk about sex or use any sexually explicit language.
  • Block people from sending you messages or e-mail, or delete them from your "buddy list" if they harass you.
  • Change your password if someone hacks into your profile. Change you username and e-mail address if someone repeatedly bothers you.
  • Contact the company that runs the site to have any your profile deleted if it was created or altered without your knowledge.
  • Talk to someone you trust if you are upset about what is being said about you. If you are scared or threatened contact a Juvenile Service Team officer at your nearest SDPD area station and inform your Internet Service Provider.

Children also need to be given rules for using cell phones and be warned of dangers in their use. Rules should deal with when and where phones can be used, what they can and cannot be used for, and etiquette and safety in texting. You need to set good examples in the use of phones, e.g., not while driving. One thing that phones should not be used for is sexting, i.e., the sending or forwarding of sexually explicit photos, videos, or messages. In addition to risking their reputation and friendships, they could be breaking the law if they create, forward, or even save this kind of message. The following are some good rules for texting.

  • Be polite and respect others. Avoid using shorthand that might lead to misunderstandings. Think about how a message might be read and understood before sending it.
  • Ignore messages from people you don’t know.
  • Block numbers of people you don’t want to hear from.
  • Don’t post your cell phone number on the Internet.
  • Never provide personal or financial information in response to a text message.
  • Use Cc: and Reply all: with care.

Cyberbullying is another problem you should talk to your children about. You should tell them that they can’t hide behind the messages they send or pictures they post, and that hurtful messages not only threaten the victim, but they make the sender look bad and can bring scorn from peers. Such messages are also a misdemeanor under California law for which the sender can be punished by up to one year in a county jail, by a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. Also, you should also make sure your own conduct does not encourage bullying, i.e., that you don’t make mean-spirited comments about others or act unkindly to them. You also need to be prepared to help your children if they become a victim of bullying. You should encourage them to show you any online messages or pictures that make them feel threatened or hurt. If you fear for your child’s safety you should call the SDPD on its non-emergency number, (619) 531-2000 or (858) 484-3154. Otherwise tell your child not to respond, save the messages and pictures for evidence, and keep you informed. Call the SDPD again if the bullying persists. Here are some other things your child should do:

  • Report the bullying to the website or network where it appears.
  • Delete the bully from your list of "friends" or "buddies," or block the bully’s username or e-mail address.
  • Share these measures with a friend who is a victim of bullying. Bullying usually stops quickly when peers intervene on behalf of the victim.

Any suspected online sexual exploitation or attempt by an adult to meet your child should be reported immediately to the San Diego Internet Crimes against Children Task Force at (858) 715-7100 and the Cyber Tipline at (800) 843-5678. The former is the local law-enforcement agency that deals with these matters. The latter is managed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and is mandated by Congress to forward your information to the appropriate law enforcement agency for investigation. If your children or anyone in your home receives pornography depicting children or your children receive sexually explicit images, report the imagery to ICAC and keep it open on your computer until an investigator comes to see it. Do not copy or download it. In the meantime you can use your computer for other things or turn your monitor off.

Children should also be warned about virus creators, identity thieves, and spammers. These cyber-criminals are increasingly targeting users of social networking sites in an effort to steal their personal data and the passwords to their accounts. One of the tactics they use to gain access to this information involves sending social networking users e-mails that appear to come from online "friends." For example, some Facebook users have been receiving e-mails from "friends" that claim to contain a video of them. When they click on it they download a virus that goes through their hard drives and installs malware (malicious software). The virus, known as Koobface, then sends itself to all the "friends" on the victim's Facebook profile. A new version of the virus also is affecting users of MySpace and other social networking sites. Cyber-criminals are tricking social networking users into downloading malware by creating fake profiles of friends, celebrities, and others. Security experts say that such attacks, which became widespread in 2008, are increasingly successful because more and more people are becoming comfortable with putting all kinds of personal information about themselves on social networking sites. They warn that users need to be very careful about what information they post because it can be used to steal their identities.

To avoid these problems on social networking sites or anywhere in the Internet, you should warn your children to:

  • Not to click on any links, videos, programs, etc. provided in messages, even if a "friend" encourages you to click on them.
  • Get program updates directly from the company’s website, not through a provided link.
  • Customize your personal privacy settings so only your "friends" have access to the information you post.
  • Read your network’s privacy policy regularly to stay informed on how it uses or discloses your information.
  • Scan your computer regularly with an anti-virus program. Make sure the program is kept up to date, preferably automatically.
  • Be suspicious of anyone, even a "friend," who asks for money over the Internet.
  • Don’t open or forward chain letters. Just delete them. They are nuisances at best and scams at worst. And many contain viruses or spyware.
  • Watch out for "free" stuff. Don’t download anything unless it’s from a trusted source and it’s been scanned with security software. "Free" stuff can hide malware.
  • Don’t respond to pop-ups. Delete them immediately.
  • Avoid all online games and quizzes that request personal information, including your e-mail address. Providing this information can put your identity at risk.

Additional information on Internet dangers to children and how to keep children safe online is available on numerous websites. These include the following:

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