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On Feb. 26 of this year, experts from the Benton County Sheriff's Office presented a special program entitled "Parents Meeting on Cybercrime." More than 400 people (mostly parents) attended the program, which was held in a church's sanctuary in order to accommodate the large crowd of people. In addition to the program, various groups provided tables in the church's entrance promoting various supportive programs dealing with cybercrime. Businesses in the area also indicated their concern and support for the program by providing various kinds of finger food for those attending.

The Benton County Sheriff's Office is the only law enforcement group in this area that has a cybercrime division, and they are monitoring the internet constantly to discover and to prosecute users who break the law. To date, they have identified and prosecuted numerous individuals for all kinds of illicit internet activity, including child pornography and human trafficking. The program they presented was to alert parents of the dangers to their children using the internet.

I have to admit that this was a scary program. While not attempting to assume the role of a parent, the presenters were firm in their assessment of what children are involved in these days on the internet. Their beginning comment was, "If you trust your child and think nothing is happening, you are wrong." If a person (all people, but especially children and teenagers) spends too much time alone on the internet, stays up late while parents think he or she is doing homework, or makes sure no one sees his or her phone, computer or tablet; these are warning signs that something is going on and need to be explored. Another warning sign is a phone that has its history cleared.

The presenters did not attempt to tell parents what to do but strongly suggested that they as parents were in charge of their children and should not hesitate to establish guidelines for internet usage. They should not give up their role as parents.

I would like to share specific details with you about what was presented but, to be honest, while I am not computer illiterate, I most certainly am not an expert in these matters. I attempted to write down all of the websites that are dangerous and have more than 15 of them listed in my notes, but I do not have all of the relevant information on each one. Suffice it to say that, while each of them lists age qualifications, almost none of them adhere to them. Thus, very young children and especially teenagers may access almost anything they want on the internet.

Two of the more innocent-looking sites involve "encryption" and "Instagram" by Facebook. People clicking on these websites automatically invite others to learn their identities, location and schools. Predators then begin the process of enticing the participants to engage in what they think are innocent activities. However, encryption is nonexistent in most instances and it does not do any good to quickly delete something. The information has already been sent and someone knows too much about you. Remember, what you put on Facebook goes out to millions of people, and some of them are predators.

Apparently, there are programs on the internet that allow people to identify you, capture your image through your phone's camera without you knowing it, read all of your emails and communications, and even access your personal financial records. Predators like to promote secrecy and tell people their information is strictly confidential, but it isn't. They promote making you a star, enhancing your abilities (like music) and always say how nice you look. While on stage, the presenters attempted to actually go online and show what is happening. When this failed (it usually succeeds), they showed numerous online conversations they have recorded and prosecuted that were alarming, to say the least.

Although I am sure I missed a lot of the good advice, I know the presenters warned about opening a web site that is unsure and unknown, not answering text or email messages when you do not know who sent them, and never talk with strangers. If you make contact, it is too late; you have already provided someone with your personal information and it probably will return to hurt you.

I have had courses in human trafficking and know some of the techniques that are used to enslave unsuspecting individuals, and many of these begin on the internet. I wish that all of this was someplace far off, but I am sorry to have to report that it is going on right here in Northwest Arkansas.

I am sure the Sheriff's Office will offer this course again, and I encourage you to take advantage of it by attending and bringing along a friend.

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Robert Box is the former chaplain for the Bella Vista Police Department and is currently the fire department chaplain. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Religion on 04/03/2019

Print Headline: Cybercrime is real and parents should stay alert

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