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Warning Families About Online Predators

The proliferation of child predators using the Internet to target young victims has become a national crisis. One in five children will be solicited for sex online in the next year. As law enforcement, we must do everything we can to prevent Texas children from being victimized by this new breed of child predator.

As you know, my Cyber Crimes Unit investigators have been working undercover since 2003, patrolling chat rooms frequented by children. These investigators have become very adept at presenting themselves as underage girls and boys. Within minutes, they are approached by adults who are sexual predators on the prowl, using the Internet to set up what they think will be a sexual rendezvous with a young teen.

Although we have arrested nearly 80 of these offenders, many more remain at large. That is why my office continues the effort to educate parents and children of the kind of criminal activity that goes on in connection with wildly popular social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Xanga.

For the past few months, my top Cyber Crimes investigators and I have been developing and holding a unique series of town hall meetings for parents and students to teach them about Internet safety. We have been met with overflow crowds and urgent questions from parents and students alike.

In Plano, a standing-room only crowd of over 700 parents and children filled the high school auditorium to participate in this interactive presentation about the risks of online child predators and the steps they can take to protect their children.

In Odessa and Texarkana, we talked to hundreds of concerned Texans about the danger of posting personal information in chat rooms, on networking sites, and on blogs. Parents were warned that within 20 minutes, an online predator can find out a teenís first name, last name, phone number, family member names, e-mail and home address, age, interests, school name, location, and directions to the teenís house, all from a screen name that contained the teenís first name.

In Tyler, our Cyber Safety Officer Paul Aleman warned parents and students that children should not trust people they meet online. Investigators reminded teens that what happens online CAN hurt them and urged them to talk to a parent or guardian if they are approached by a stranger online. We also reminded students that they should never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they meet online. Parents were cautioned to keep the computer in a common room in the house and limit their childís use of Web cameras.

These town hall meetings are our latest effort to help arm parents with the tools they need to keep their children safe online. We also stand ready to assist law enforcement with training and investigative support in the area of child exploitation. Police or sheriffís departments can contact us for information about resources, Texas statutes, technical assistance, or training opportunities. Call (800) 252-8011 or e-mail me at greg.abbott@oag.state.tx.us.

Computers and the Internet have revolutionized the way we live. But along with this great progress, comes new dangers and responsibilities. I thank you for your commitment to children and the future of Texas.

General Abbott's signature
Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

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