Teen Boys at Risk in Webcam Extortion Cases

Head up parents! There are some new crime stats out of the UK that may make you reconsider what kind of risks your teens may encounter online.

The UK National Crime Agency reported this week that cases of webcam extortion for financial gain are up over 100% this year, with 864 reported cases vs. 385 last year, and the year isn’t over yet. We haven’t seen similar statistics reported here in the U.S.

The real eye opener from these numbers (for us) was that in 95% of the reported incidents, the victim was male. The largest population of victims was men aged 21 – 30, but boys between 11 and 20 form a “substantial portion.”

We, and parents we talk to, have assumed that females are more at risk of this type of threat, but these UK statistics tell another story.

The agency implies that normal boy-girl online relationships are not what are driving these numbers. social-media-sleepRather:

  • Professional criminals are posing as available females online in an attempt to lure young men into a relationship
  • Bad actors are posing as gay men online, again attempting to establish an intimate online relationship with a gay man

In either case, the victim is enticed to send a nude video to the perpetrator. The perp then uses the threat of posting that video publicly online, or sending it to the victim’s relatives, friends or even his boss, as a means to extort money.

This isn’t just a UK phenomenon. A Minnesota man was sentenced to 38 years in prison this month after pleading guilty to sextortion in 155 cases involving teenage boys over a four-year period. In some cases he posed as a young girl; in others he claimed to represent a modeling agency.

A spokesperson from the UK’s National Crime Agency describes this as a large global “business” where the bad guys are often overseas and do not feel like they at risk of being caught.

Risk of being exposed or potential financial loss isn’t the only downside here. The UK reports that webcam extortion has led to 4 victims committing suicide.

We didn’t think that catfishing would become a big business, but perhaps it has. The one and only defense against this is to make sure you know, and your teens know – without a shadow of a doubt – who you are talking to online before committing any intimate acts.

 

 

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Study: Teens, Pornography and Sexting

First off, we’d like to say that we don’t think pornography overall is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing for young internet users but we’ll leave that up to parents to decide how young is too young. It’s bad in lots of circumstances but banning it altogether is not the answer.

sextingSexting isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, but it is bad in most cases for teens (and younger kids in all cases) and is illegal in most places.

As soon as your teen or tween has either internet access or a smartphone, him encountering porn either by seeking it out or accidentally is a real issue. According to a new UK survey titled “I wasn’t sure it was normal to watch it…”, 28% of 11-12 year olds had viewed pornography. And the “accidentally” thing is real – more kids see online porn for the first time accidentally than by seeking it out on purpose.

The survey covers both pornography and sexting. If you’re the parent of a teen or tween with internet access YOU SHOULD TAKE A LOOK AT THE SURVEY HERE.

Normally, we’d take a bunch of other key stats out of the survey and give you our thoughts, but the study used a pretty small sample size for some of the questions so we don’t want to stick a stake in the ground around any one stat. Plus, depending on how the survey was conducted, we don’t think the kids would necessarily answer honestly. We suggest you look at the survey because if your teen has internet access, you should assume that he or she will see pornography, and may be or become involved in sexting, and you should be talking about it.

The topics are difficult ones, and if you’re having trouble getting started, here are some things to consider:

  • Pornography is unrealistic. Caution your kids that the real world doesn’t work that way.
  • Porn often degrades one of the partners, most often the woman.
  • Porn rarely reflects the practice of safe sex.
  • For parents of younger children, how do you want them to react if they accidentally encounter porn online? Have you told them that?
  • Sexting is becoming more mainstream in romantic relationships, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • Even if consensual sexting, when discovered, isn’t prosecuted as often these days, it still can be.
  • Digital images can spread quickly, and are permanent.

There’s lots to talk about.

 

 

If you are worried that your teen or tween is at risk, we can help. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

 

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Talking About Teen and Pre Teen Sexting

One of the toughest pieces of advice that we give to parents is that they need to talk to their kids about sexting before they think they should. It’s tough advice to give because no parent want to think that their 8, 9 or 10 year old would be willing to send provocative photos to anyone.

child iPhoneWe understand that almost no 8-year olds are in a romantic relationship. We get that most 8-year olds would never dream of sending a provocative photo. But, many 8-year olds have a smartphone, so they have the means to do it if they are so inclined.

If you’ve given your child a smartphone or other internet connected device, the onus is on you to warn your child, early and often, of the pitfalls associated with sexting.

A study out of BBC in the UK last week used data from Freedom of Information requests to look at all revenge porn cases filed between April and December of 2015, and the results were shocking.

  • During the 8 month period, 1,160 revenge porn cases were reported
  • In 30% of cases, the victim was a minor under 19 years old
  • In 3 of the cases, the victim was 11 years old
  • 11% of charges resulted in criminal charges
  • Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, Twitter and messaging app WhatsApp, in that order, were the most frequently used networks for posting revenge porn

Since only 11% of the cases resulted in prosecution, and there is no information on how many cases are never reported, this is obviously a big issue, and one that can involve younger kids.

It is awkward and uncomfortable to introduce the topic of sexting and its consequences to kids who haven’t even considered it, but it’s a good idea to do it before it becomes a problem. In fact, it’s your responsibility.

 

 

 

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Age and The Line Between Teen Sexting and Child Porn

If you’ve been paying attention to the news about the current state of teen sexting over the last couple of years, you might have drawn a few conclusions:

  • With almost every teen having a smartphone, the number of teens that appear to be sexting has gone through the roof
  • When sexting images get handed off to friends in a school setting, the odds of being found out go up dramatically
  • When the original sexting occurred between two consenting teens, prosecutors tend to opt for a slap in the wrist, even when the possession and transmission of images constitutes child porn by the strict definition

teen-cell-phoneThe conclusion of a recent Denver Post article on the subject can be summarized here:

“[We have witnessed a] predictable shift in U.S. policy about sexual images of youth: We are not interested in prosecuting sexting teenagers in criminal courts, and we’ve separated this stuff from what we call child pornography.”

We agree. It is impossible given the technological change that has taken place that when child pornography laws were written, they contemplated two teens in a romantic relationship voluntarily sharing intimate images.

The article goes on to speculate on a very interesting point: What happens to a teen once he is no longer a minor, and there are pictures of underage minors on his devices, apps or social accounts (or hers)? If a 17-year old and a 15-year old share pictures, it might not be a big deal legally. If an 18-year old continues to possess those pictures of a 15-year old, will authorities look the other way?

It’s worth thinking about. When your teen turns 18, will he voluntarily delete the old images that now might get him in trouble? Will you have the fortitude to have a frank talk about what images or videos might be in his or her possession? As uncomfortable as that conversation might be, we think it’s one worth having. The prospect of possession of those old photos and video being treated more harshly if found is a scary one.

Of course, the odds that your teen’s phone or social media accounts will be scrutinized by law enforcement decreases with age at some point. It appears to us that most teen sexting cases are outed by those images causing a disturbance in middle or high school.

We’re not saying that we think teen sexting is okay; it’s very risky and should be avoided. We just think that parents should keep in mind that as their teens become adults, their media inventory might pose a bigger risk.

 

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Is WhatsApp Safe for Teens?

If your teen has friends and a cell phone, and what teen doesn’t, she is probably using a messaging app in addition to or instead of the text messaging client that came installed on her phone. The most popular is Whatsapp-safe-for-teensWhatsApp, with 800 million users globally, although Kik Messenger and Facebook messenger may be more popular in the U.S. Is it safe for teens? That depends.

First of all, according to the app’s Terms of Service, the age limit for WhatsApp is 16, though it is largely ignored. In fact, as of October 2014, 8% of U.S. internet users aged 14 – 17 use WhatsApp, and that number is undoubtedly higher now.

Facebook acquired WhatsApp last year or a hefty $18 billion or so, which might lead one to ask why the age limit for WhatsApp (16) is higher than that of Facebook (13). We believe that the reason is that WhatsApp has more and different risks than Facebook, especially for teens. Let’s take a look at how:

Adult content – On Facebook, there are strict rules about what types of content are permitted; on WhatsApp there are few strict prohibitions (i.e. “Adult content must be identified as such” – we’re not even sure what that means). If you’re hoping that human moderators will protect your teen from inappropriate content on WhatsApp, you’re out of luck.

Predator risk – The playbook for a typical predator often follows the same pattern: find a teen on Facebook or Instagram then send a friend request. After you’re friends with the teen, attempt to establish a rapport (what is referred to as “grooming”) and keep communicating. The next step is usually to move the conversation over to a more private platform, like a messaging app.

Sexting – If your teen wants to send a risqué photo or video, he is going to find a way to do it. Since WhatsApp allows customizable picture or video transmission to any user in your address book, it is certainly an option for sexting.

Private, or maybe not – WhatsApp claims that they do not store messages sent and received on their servers, so your teen might think that once a message is sent, that’s as far as it goes. As with any messaging app, messages can be saved by the recipient and retransmitted or posted online. There is always a risk that they will be around forever, and not private at all.

No password – WhatsApp users are not required to set or use a password for the app, so if one of their friends gets their hands on the phone, and the phone is unlocked, there is a risk that a rogue message can be sent.

While there are some risks to teens using WhatsApp, the app itself is not the problem – what your teen is doing with it may be. As a parent you can start by discussing which messaging options your teen is using, how she is using them and who she is communicating with. If any of it sounds like a risk, take it from there, but by all means understand what you’re dealing with when it comes to keeping your teen safe online.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Elizabeth NJ Schools Deal With Anonymous Twitter Accounts, Nude Photos

The Elizabeth New Jersey public school system this week is dealing with a made-for-media scandal that has a number of elizabeth-schools-logoingredients that make a story truly buzzworthy. When you combine:

  • Anonymous social media accounts
  • Nude, sexual student (?) photos
  • Possible sexting
  • Possible child pornography
  • Possible Revenge Porn

A number of anonymous Twitter accounts were brought to the attention of school officials, and those accounts were posting nude, sexual pictures, allegedly of students.

Two things (at least) are interesting and worth noting. The owners of the Twitter accounts may or may not be students in the district, and the lewd photos may or may not be students of the district. That hasn’t kept district officials from taking action, but the admins probably know whether some pictures had students in them.

The Elizabeth police are involved, and some of the accounts are reported to have been shut down already as of last night. The school board has taken a very drastic step in this case, and one that seems very heavy handed to us. According to an article at NBC New York on the incidents:

“any student who tweets, retweets or favorites one of the offensive messages, or who follows the offensive tweeters will be disciplined. The district will also take whatever other legal actions are available to it to unmask these anonymous harassers and impose appropriate discipline”

We’re not sure what type of discipline they have in mind, but no doubt if punishment is handed down for simply interacting with another Twitter account, there could be lawsuits involved.

Don’t forget that this is also a parenting issue.

What is a parent to do? First, if you don’t know whether your teens are active on Twitter, you should. Ask the question, and encourage them to not interact with accounts such as these. Second, use this as a teaching moment to warn against the dangers of sexting. If those are pictures of students, you can bet that the subjects are wishing they were never taken in the first place.

You can find the superintendent’s letter to parents here.

 

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The KIK App is Definitely Not For Kids

Kik-home-screenIf your teens or tweens are actively messaging on their phones, you’ve probably noticed that they’re using a messaging app rather than the phone’s standard SMS utility. Messaging apps are cool, free and they offer features that many users find appealing.

We did a quick review of the KIK messaging app last year, which now has over 150 million users, and it didn’t seem much different from the other messaging apps out there like WhatsApp and Line with one exception – anecdotally it seems that that more teens are using KIK for sexting and seeking out causal partners than is the case for other messaging apps, at least here in the U.S.

Our opinion has been that if your teen decides to try out sexting, it’s going to happen regardless of which apps are on his phone. The apps themselves are not the problem. We may have to change our tune on this one.

I do have KIK on my phone but I don’t use it – it’s still there from when I’ve researched it in the past. I didn’t realize that I had push notifications turned on, and was very surprised to receive the following message yesterday:

kik-flirt“Hello from the KIK Dating Team. We’ve noticed you may be interested in our online dating partner www.kikdating.net who have thousands of beautiful women all ready to chat and flirt using KIK Messenger! We hope you enjoy our gift and enjoy using our network to swap pics and flirty messages!

Love KIK Team.”

As I mentioned above, I don’t use the app (I sent and received 1 message last year during testing) and they don’t know anything about me, including whether I’m interested in flirting. They don’t know my age either, which means that the above message could have as easily been sent to a curious 12-year-old.

It’s one thing for a teen to use KIK to message an existing partner; it’s totally different if the platform suggests that he may want to try flirting with strangers. We recommend that parents keep KIK off their kids’ phones until they are old enough to make very good decisions.

Parents can find information on deactivating a child’s KIK account here.

Edit: A colleague and I did some research and it looks like this message is spam, not sent by KIK themselves. We are reaching out to the company for a comment.

Edit 2: www dot kikdating dot net has been taken down. The above was definitely third party spam. I did reach out to the company and still haven’t heard from them.

 

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NJ’s Bridgewater-Raritan Superintendent Deals With Sexting

An open letter to the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District Superintendent Cheryl Dyer.

***

You may already have heard of the Bridgewater NJ sexting case that fortunately ended up without much fanfare, negative of otherwise. We commend Superintendent Cheryl Dyer and the BRRSD for handling it flawlessly.

In this case, school officials became aware that a number of students had nude or semi nude pictures of other students on their phones on school grounds. According to students quoted, the pictures were originally taken and sent as private messages, but were later more widely distributed via group message.

After consulting with the police, the superintendent sent the letter below to district parents, effectively giving students a short grace period to delete all such images from their devices. We believe that any time issues can be handled by families as opposed to involving the police, it’s a good thing – especially if the worst-case scenario is a child pornography charge.

Dealing with sexting after the fact, especially if pictures are causing a disruption in schools, is something that administrations must deal with. Effectively dealing with sexting, cyberbullying, school threats and the like are areas where schools may want to develop solutions to react more proactively, or at least in real time.

We at ThirdParent would love to talk to Superintendent Dyer, or any other NJ Superintendent, about what the perfect solution would look like. We have significant resources in this area and would be happy to join a discussion with schools about making the situation better. We can be reached via email here.

“Dear Parent/Guardian of BRHS and BRMS students,

It has come to my attention that this week some of the students in our district have knowingly possessed and brought to school nude photos of classmates. The digital photos have been found on students’ cell phones and on their social media pages. Students took photos of themselves and shared them electronically.

As you can imagine the situation has created a host of unfortunate consequences for everyone involved. The educational environment has been disrupted. Students are dealing with the consequences of their actions. Parents, administrators, and counselors are all working diligently trying to take corrective action and educate students about the ramifications of this behavior. Local law enforcement is involved because the photos represent child pornography.

I have been in communication with Chief Manuel Caravela of the Bridgewater Township Police Department and Chief Kenneth McCormick of the Raritan Police Department, who have in turn reviewed our situation with the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. An arrangement has been made at this time to allow the school and local police department to collaborate and work with the students and families involved to handle the situation without the filing of any criminal charges. Please be advised that this arrangement for amnesty is short term through Wednesday, May 28, 2014. Effective Thursday, May 29, 2014 any students involved in the behaviors described above will be subject to the application of the law.

The school district will be working to counsel and if appropriate, discipline the students who have been involved in this situation. Our goal is that this sort of behavior never occurs in our school district. In an effort to make it clear how serious the creation, possession and distribution of this sort of content is, I am directing all of the principals to institute a minimum disciplinary consequences of a 5-day suspension for such infractions. The minimum consequence will be effective beginning Thursday, May 29, 2014 for ANY student who knowingly possesses child pornography at school or who creates and/or distributes such content in a way that substantially disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the school or the rights of other students. Students also risk losing the right to participate in end of school activities such as trips, prom and possibly graduation ceremonies.

I am making a plea to you for your help. Please talk to your child about the serious and possibly long term social, emotional, and legal ramifications that can accompany situations like we are dealing with right now. Reinforce with your child that once they distribute digital content and it gets to the World Wide Web it is impossible to eradicate. Please tell your child that under no circumstances should they be taking nude photos of themselves. Please tell your child that if someone asks them to create such a photo they should say “no” and report the person to a trusted adult. Please tell your child if they receive inappropriate photos they should immediately delete the photo or immediately go to the police station (or school office if at school) with their phone – they should NOT distribute the photo.

Finally, please review with your child all of the digital photos they may have posted or saved on their cell phone, their social media accounts or on other electronic hardware or software. DELETE ALL INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT.

As always, I appreciate your support in helping us to resolve this immediate situation and in educating your child about this crucial topic.

Sincerely,

Cheryl Dyer”

 

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Bridgewater NJ Has A Student Sexting Problem Too

MyCentralNJ.com has a story this morning about how the Bridgewater-Raritan School District in Central New Jersey is dealing with a student sexting problem in a similar fashion to what the Bernards NJ School District did (successfully!) earlier this month.

Rather than calling out a specific school, Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Dyer said in a letter to parents that students have until Thursday to delete all evidence of inappropriate photos from their phones. The warning goes out to students district-wide.

“Dyer said has instructed principals to impose a minimum five-day suspension on any student who possesses the sexual or images creates or distributes the images after Wednesday. Students also face the possibility of losing the right to participate in end-of-school activities such as trips, prom and possibly graduation ceremonies, Dyer said.

bridgewater, njWhile the district has been in contact with the police, as was the case of the Bernards situation, we applaud Bridgewater for giving schools and parents a chance to resolve the issue before the police contemplate pressing charges.

There is something interesting happening here. Before these two incidents, most teen sexting cases have come to light because private photos got posted publicly somewhere, often Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Twitter allows explicit content, but Facebook and Instagram are known to act quickly in removing inappropriate content. Before they do, though, it tends to spread very quickly, especially at a middle or high school. That’s not what appears to be happening here. It looks as though someone reported the problem before it had the chance to become a much bigger problem.

Are we getting better at monitoring and self-reporting? If so, that’s great.

If your teen has a smartphone, it’s never too early to start talking about the risks of sexting. From predator risk to sextortion to the possibility of grave embarrassment, school suspensions and child porn charges, sexting is never something a teen should take lightly.

A lot of teens have an, “It won’t happen to me” attitude. Unfortunately, it does.

 

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Jersey City Teen Charged After Posting Sex Video to Facebook

A New Jersey school district’s student conduct policy, and specifically the section covering sexting, are front and center this week after a student posted a sex video online.

An unnamed 15-year old at Jersey City’s Dickinson High School has been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy after allegedly having sex with a 13-year old girl and posting a video of the act to Facebook. There is no word yet about whether child pornography charges are being considered.

To date, the district hasn’t said much about the event, but it is interesting that they do have a sexting policy in place, and that the policy includes posting content online.

school-sexting-policy

The district has not yet said whether the school will punish the student above and beyond what the police end up doing.

District spokesperson and Chief of Staff Maryann Dickar told nj.com that the district does plan to raise awareness about the dangers of sexting, but admitted that officials have nothing specific planned at this time.

If Ms. Dickar or the folks at the Jersey City Board of Education would be interested in holding a seminar for students and/or parents, we would be happy to help. Let us know.

 

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