October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and a good time to brush up on how to stay safe online, particularly when our children are using the Internet.
Computers are wonderful tools that can open the door to an incredible world of information for our children. Unfortunately, the same advances in computer and telecommunication technology are also leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and harm by computer-sex offenders.
According to a survey by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, one in five teens had received a sexual solicitation over the Internet in the previous year. Three percent of teens had received an aggressive sexual solicitation offering to meet somewhere, been called on the telephone, or received money or gifts from an Internet stranger. One in four reported unwanted exposure to inappropriate pictures. Less than 10 percent of these approaches are reported to police and only about 40 percent were reported to parents, according to this survey of 1,501 youths aged 10 to 17.
Although we have passed strong laws to bring these abusers to justice, we must remember that parents are always their children's first line of defense. Remember to warn your children about the dangers of trusting a stranger they meet in cyberspace.
The following suggestions may help parents with online computer safety:
* Parents want to know who their children are hanging out with after school. The same rule should apply online: know who your children communicate with.
* Locate the computer in a high-traffic area. This way, parents can keep better tabs on the Websites their children visit.
* Parents should warn children about stranger-danger when dealing with people -- both in person and online -- that they don’t know. Warn children to not give out personal information, such as their address, phone number, or family financial information (including credit card numbers), to strangers over the Internet.
* Block certain sites such as pornography and adult bulletin boards. Filtering software programs are available.
Adults also need to be on guard when in cyberspace. It's not just pickpockets who steal your credit cards and money anymore. Advances in computer technology have made it possible for identity thieves to ruin your credit and tarnish your good name with a couple clicks of a mouse. The following tips can help protect you online:
* Don't give credit card, debit card or bank account information over the Internet or phone, unless you've initiated the contact and/or you are dealing with an established business that you know.
* Don't give your Social Security number to anyone, except your employer, government agencies, lenders and credit bureaus. It's all a privacy pirate needs to steal your identity; also, don't carry your Social Security card with you.
* Don't reply to "spam," which is unwanted e-mail messages that clutter up your computer in-box and slow your connection to the Internet. That tells a spammer that your e-mail address is active. Instead, notify your Internet provider of the offender.