Sheriff targets Internet crime
Source: The Detroit News
By Karen Bouffard
Date: September 25, 2003
CANTON TOWNSHIP -- Debbie Madonna learned how quickly a child can stumble into an inappropriate Internet site when her youngest son Andrew, 14, visited the World Wrestling Federation on the Web a few years ago.
"He couldn't have been more than 8 or 9, and he hit on a link and ended up in a more adult site. It was too adult for him, and he stopped watching wrestling after that," said Madonna of Plymouth.
Officers from the Wayne County Sheriff's Department Internet Crime Unit last week launched a series of workshops on Internet crime.
The sessions are designed to teach parents such as Madonna how to protect kids from dangers on the Internet, and also cover identity theft, piracy and other issues.
During the unit's first presentation in Canton, Investigator Bill Liczbinski visited a chat room for teens, posing as a 12-year-old girl. In less than 10 minutes, Liczbinski was approached online by someone who identified himself in his messages as a 27-year-old man -- and who fit the profile of a suspected pedophile, Liczbinski said.
"These chat rooms are where predators hang out," said Investigator Ray Johnson, who presented information while Liczbinski typed messages in the chat room in the background, with a view of his computer monitor projected on a screen for participants to watch.
"It's very easy for a child to end up in this room, and end up getting solicited."
The Internet Crime Unit has arrested 27 suspected child predators since January, resulting in 22 convictions. The remaining suspects are awaiting trial. Workshop participants looked at one America Online site, where 133,300 people were visiting in various chat rooms. Many of the chat rooms were innocent, but one was called "Daddy's Very Special Little Girl" -- a name, Johnson said, that could be used by a pedophile to draw potential victims. On Yahoo, a fetish site was accessed containing chat rooms for people interested in children younger than 8 and even babies. In one chat room, the officer posing online as a 12-year-old girl was asked what she was wearing and what sexual experience she had. "It's clear this person is using this chat room as a platform to find minors," Johnson said.
Donald Toms, a retired teacher from Wayne, said he was shocked at how easily and quickly officers accessed objectionable sites. Toms, a trustee of the Wayne Public Library, said he attended the workshop to learn more about how librarians can keep the Internet safe and accessible. "I was absolutely flabbergasted," Toms said. "I knew there were some things there, but the types of things and the amount of that material, and the ease of getting to those rooms took me by surprise." Constandino Tapadopoulos, a law clerk with the Wayne Country Neighborhood Legal Services-Elder Law Center in Redford, attended the workshop to get information for senior citizens who are raising children. He will also pass along information on identity theft and Internet scams covered in the workshops. "A lot of these seniors are raising or providing care for grandchildren, so they should know what's going on," Tapadopoulos said.
Johnson said parents need to teach children to stay away from all strangers, including the ones they might meet online. And they should be taught not to give out details that could help a predator figure out who they are, where they go to school or where they live. "The most basic thing kids are taught is don't talk to strangers. You don't know who you're talking to when you're talking on the Internet," he said.
"One of the first things (predators) always ask for is their age, sex and location. For some reason, when someone asks that on the computer, they answer it right away," Johnson said. "They will go to the school, watch her to see if she goes home, if she goes home alone sometimes. They will watch for these things until they figure out the patterns, and then they will abduct the young girl." Madonna said all of the computers in her home can be monitored by her husband's computer. She said visiting objectionable sites hasn't been a problem for her kids, but knowing Dad can see what they're up to has been a deterrent. She also discourages them from visiting chat rooms. "We said this is what you have to watch for," she said, "people are trying to show you something you're not really interested in."
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