Texas Wants To Close Loophole In Online Predators Law

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A Texas State Representative is pushing to close a loophole in the law designed to protect people from being victimized by predators online.

“The perpetrator uses non-physical forms of coercion such as blackmail to acquire sexual content… either photos or video of a child or an adult… to obtain money, or to engage in sex with the victim” State Representative Tony Dale said during a Monday Morning press conference at the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

“This new bill addresses a gap in law where it is currently not illegal to threaten or extort people to provide such material” Dale said, adding “If such material is published–as I said, that’s already illegal–but blackmailing people today for these purposes is not specifically illegal.”

Investigators will tell you the online anonymity provided by social media continues to be a big challenge to them in protecting potential victims from harm.

“You can be who you want to be, and unfortunately our children may start chatting with these individuals… believing they are one of their peers” said Captain Jerry Medders with the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Dale is pushing for his bill to get a hearing before a Texas House committee.

http://www.ktsa.com

Do vigilante groups truly help against online predators?

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We’ve all heard at some point, either on the news or online, that a group of individuals have assisted or have “busted a predator” themselves. Sounds like a great way to put an end to online pedophilia, right? Well, there are negative consequences that many are unaware of.

The phrase, “don’t bite off more than you can chew” fits right into this particular scenario. Law enforcement around the country are always dealing with reports of online pedophilia. If you’ve read articles on certain online groups, you’ve probably seen the many vigilante groups and members who are getting themselves into hot water. So what exactly does “hot water” mean?

CCRA has spoken to members of many vigilante groups, who’ve admitted in some point in their online decoy operations, they’ve had negative encounters with law enforcement and civil attorneys. When asked what this entailed, they explained that attorneys have contacted them, bringing suit against them for false accusations, defamation of character, and many other areas. Law enforcement has also asked them to stop meeting predators who they meet online, in person, regardless of state or country.

When CCRA asked law enforcement about this, they made it perfectly clear that that civilians who are not contracted, affiliated, or partnered with law enforcement agencies, should not be attempting to apprehend online predators. This includes chatting with predators online, collecting their personal information for personal gain, meeting in person and recording those in person encounters.

What’s the big deal? According to our meetings with law enforcement, individuals who are not one of the following above, who do not have the authority or power to attempt to stop predators as individuals or groups, are either at risk of impersonating law enforcement, destroying an on-going investigation, and setting themselves up for civil suit, since the predator the groups are dealing with, have not been convicted in a court of law. Believe it or not, these civil suits can and will be a win for the suspected predator.

With the largely growing number of predators, how in the world is the online community supposed to support and protect their community, both physically and online? Law enforcement stated that online observations and reports to law enforcement are sufficient enough and do not pose a threat to themselves, or law enforcement investigations.

How does CCRA avoid these mentioned issues? CCRA does not perform decoy operations or interact the predator or victim. Our operations are solely visual and will remain that way, unless otherwise instructed by a law enforcement agency. If a law enforcement agency instructs you to do such tasks, you are then brought under their protection, which should be documented on a form, which both parties can sign.

Although it’s know that the laws have not yet caught up to the internet, all civilians should steer clear of attempting to apprehend, meet with, and communicate with predators as a decoy, as many call themselves.

Online predators push Irish children to share compromising pictures within 4 to 5 questions

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Detective Superintendent Declan Daly heads up the recently formed Garda National Protective Services Bureau (GNPSB) and in an exclusive interview with Independent.ie he revealed how his officers have witnessed an increase in children being targeted for naked pictures online.

D-Supt Daly called on parents not to be naive and to educate both themselves and their children about the dangers online.

“The internet has many fantastic uses but one of the downsides is that at any given time there are perpetrators who are looking to target our children sexually and exploit our children.

He continued: “A child who’s innocently online may be unaware that they are being targeted by an online predator.”

The GNPSB was set up in 2015. Previously it operated at the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit (DVSAIU) in the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI).

However garda chiefs felt it was important to create an independent unit that dealt specifically with crimes of a sexual nature.

The sensitive nature of the work carried out by the skilled detectives means that many details of the crimes they work on cannot be published.

However D-Supt Daly explained that he wants to make parents and children aware of the serious dangers that exist. The unit is in constant contact with policing bodies across the globe including the FBI in the US, Interpol and Europol. Police and agents alert gardaí to the presence of particular predators and photographs online. The GNPSB then process the information and disseminate it to districts across the country where local garda units deal with perpetrators and victims.

D-Supt Daly explained that they have seen a “worrying increase” in self-taken child images ending up in the hands of predators.

“This is where a child takes an image of themselves, either partially clothed or fully unclothed and posts that image online,”he explained.

“The child then either knowingly or unknowingly maybe gives that image to somebody. Maybe emails that image to another child, or what they believe is another child, but ultimately that image makes its way onto the internet by a number of means. Obviously you have the difficulties there.”

Asked how children fall for this plot D-Supt Daly explained that criminals often operate a form of ‘catfishing’ where they pretend to be someone they are not.
“At any one time there are perpetrators pretending to be young children and then trying to build up credibility with a child.

“For example, an adult male posing as a teenage girl to try and get pictures of young boys. The boy believes that he’s interacting with a young girl and innocently sends the image, believing that he is sending it to a young girl. He may or may not find out that it is an adult that he is interacting with.”

Although he could not provide specific numbers for the amount of these cases that have happened D-Supt Daly explained that at any one time his unit would be carrying out several investigations.

He explained that conversations between predators and victims develop worryingly fast.

“What we find is that when we look at the interacting that would happen between a suspect and a victim. It progresses into a request for images, or to meet, very quickly.”

Asked how quickly, the garda chief responded: “Within four or five questions. Obviously I can’t put a figure on every case but what we have seen is a suspect will be online and he will be eager to find out somebody who is amenable to his advances or his interaction.
“They seem to get down to the point very quickly. They ask name, age, sex, location and then it’s into that sexualised chat very quickly.”

Gardaí use a number of tools to follow the footprint that leads to the criminals but D-Supt Daly said parents need to take control of the situation before it gets to that point.

He urged mothers and fathers to educate themselves and to adapt real-world thinking to the online sphere.

“If a parent is in the house and they looked out the window and they saw their child speaking with a stranger, they would react immediately because they would be horrified to think: ‘Who is my child talking to? What is my child talking to this person about? What danger does this person pose?’ So when the child comes in we would ask our child a number of questions about this interaction.

“However on the internet we give our children access. And how many strangers do our children speak to without any critique or questions posed?”

He added that communication between parent and child is crucial so that the child is not “overly criticised” for communicating with a stranger.

]“What you don’t want is a situation where a child is simply not going to interact with the parent and not going to come forward and tell their story,” he said.

“If a child is a victim of sexplay, for example, you want that communication piece that the child is confident and able to go to parents and say ‘somebody is trying to target me online and I’m worried about it’. You don’t want the child holding that in, you want them to tell you.”

Developers create app to help protect children from online predators

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The app, Sophie, is the brainchild of Briony Schadegg and Ben Flink.

Ms. Schadegg has a background in policing and said she wanted to create the app to help parents monitor their children’s online activity without invading their privacy.

An app developer at the New Venture Institute at Flinders University, Mr Flink said he was motivated by personal concerns about the future of his young children.

How the app works

Mr Flink said by using text recognition software, the app was able to monitor the personality, mood and tone of online communications.

When changes are noticed in conversation tones, a text will be sent to a parent to alert them of a possible problem.

It’s allowing a parent to understand what is inside their child’s [online] diary without actually reading it,” Mr Flink said.

She said the app would be visible at all times and it would be best to install it with the child watching to explain what it does.

“It is a keyboard app, so it is there all the time … when you are typing.”

Parents sent helpful information

Sending warning messages to parents could create panic in some families, so the app creators have also made sure messages contain information on how to broach the issue with their child.

“We’ll also be sending resources to enable parents to have those conversations,” Mr Flink said.

All we are trying to do is provide parents with information and a line of action they can take,” Ms Schadegg said.

“We are not trying to remove parents’ abilities to parent.

“We’re just hopefully providing them with a tool … [and] hopefully have a better outcome.”

Bullying, sexting, depression algorithms to be included

Mr Flink will take a beta version of the app to Boston next month as part of the MassChallenge three-day international start-up boot camp.

“What we really want to get out of Boston is large-scale investment,” Mr Flink said.

He said while version one of Sophie would concentrate on changes in behaviour, they would like to develop more versions of the app to include a raft of social and mental health indicators looking for things like bullying behaviour, sexting and signs of depression.

“Research shows the earlier you pick up problems in a child’s development, the less long-term problems you will have,” Ms Schadegg said.

“I’d like to see this app installed on children’s first devices.”

36 online child predators arrested in Montgomery County operation

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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas — Officers have arrested 36 men as a part of a three-month sting operation targeting suspected online child predators, the Montgomery County Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force said.

“We know many kids are now out of school for the holidays and will likely have lots of free time on their hands,” District Attorney Brett Ligon said. “It is imperative that parents stay involved with who their kids are communicating with online.”

Investigators said one of the men apprehended made arrangements online to meet up with a minor and engage in sexual activity. The child turned out to be an undercover agent and the suspected predator was arrested at the meet up spot when he arrived, officers said.

The sting ran from October through December and led to charges ranging from possession of child pornography to attempted aggravated sexual assault, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office said.

“Sexual predators are looking for opportunities to meet up with underage kids for sex and are using the internet and social media apps to arrange the meetings,” Ligon said.

The task force did not work alone to capture the suspect but was aided by several agencies including the Conroe Police Department, the Montgomery County Constable’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

“We are committed to protecting our kids and hope that parents will actively join us in this fight,” Ligon said.

Soldier turned online predator, arrested

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A U.S. Army soldier stationed at Fort Campbell was arrested Wednesday in Clearwater, Florida, on allegations he was sending sexually explicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl, according to a news release from Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Peter Matlock, 23, Fort Campbell, was charged with three counts of transmission of material harmful to a minor by electronic device, one count of certain use of computer services or devices prohibited and one count of unlawful use of a two-way communications device.

According to the sheriff’s office, the victim informed detectives Dec. 7 that she had a 10 month relationship with Matlock that had turned sexual in nature. The relationship, and texts messages, is alleged to have taken place between February and November.

Matlock communicated with the victim through Facebook, Skype and text messaging, the detective said, and obtained nude photos from the girl. It is also alleged the two engaged in simulated sex on video using Skype.

Matlock was aware of the victim’s age, the release says, even discussing the potential criminal consequences of his actions.

 

 

Predator threatens minor, wants money

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A recent report from an underage boy who was lured into participating in a graphic video chat online, then extorted by the stranger who recorded it on her own computer, highlights dangers that can befall unsupervised children with internet access, according to local law enforcement.

The boy, whose name and age are not publicly available because he is younger than 18, contacted the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office last week after the female predator told him she would post the video of him online if he didn’t send her money, according to a report.

The boy said the woman convinced him to participate in the graphic video chat by threatening to physically hurt his family, a threat she made more real by telling the boy she could find them using location information he had posted online. He said the woman who appeared in the video chat looked nothing like the person in the profile picture.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Megan Terlecky said the boy was courageous for finally coming forward, but that law enforcement views the situation as a cautionary tale of what not to do.

“This is what we tell kids not to do when it comes to the internet,” Terlecky said. “Don’t talk to anybody you don’t know on the internet.”

Internet users should be leery of profiles that have just been created and don’t have much of a history, Terlecky said.

In the recent Mesa County instance, the predator contacted the boy using a Facebook account under the name “Samira Dupon,” and appeared to have been created the same day she contacted the boy.

“Those are more than likely just created, just to be scams,” Terlecky said.

But no matter who users are talking to, Terlecky said the idea that internet or cellphone activity will remain private should go out the window.

“There is no such thing as privacy on the internet,” she said. “It’s really important to be aware that whatever you do put out there is going to be out there forever.”

Those who do fall victim to internet predators and extortionists should fight through their embarrassment and come forward, Terlecky said, like the boy in the recent case.

“They are counting on you not to speak up and not to step forward because you’re embarrassed,” she said. “But still, even if you made a mistake by sending a photo or by engaging in a video … you still have the right to not be a victim.”

Victims shouldn’t let their feelings stop them from reporting extortion to law enforcement, she said.

“We’re not going to judge you,” Terlecky said. “We’re here to help you.”

Nobody has been arrested in the recent Mesa County case. The deputy who responded told the boy and his parents he would “most likely not be able to locate the suspect.”

However, Terlecky said she would urge anyone who has been victimized or extorted online to come forward and speak to law enforcement by either coming to the Sheriff’s Office at 215 Rice St. or calling the department at 970-244-3500.

Parents need to talk with their children about what they’re doing online, she said. They should be aware that their children might be embarrassed or afraid of having their device taken away.

“Kids are smart. Kids are sneaky. But you really need to have that open line of communication,” Terlecky said.

Warning signs for kids being taken advantage of or even bullied online can include general emotional withdrawal, she said.

Parents should check their children’s internet use history if they suspect something is amiss

Information via Grand Junction Daily Sentinel