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Chat sites and text messages: A dangerous combo

by Garland M Baker on February 15, 2010

The internet is as wonderful as it is evil. The dark side is where predators lurk waiting for the unsuspecting innocent to fall into their traps. These creeps lie in wait to menace adults and children alike. The internet, cellular telephones and text messaging can work together to steal, maim and even kill.

Many expats have come to Costa Rica with families including their children. Others have started families here. In a modern family, having several computers in the household is not uncommon. Giving children cell phones at a very early age is also normal practice. They are great little devices to keep tabs on kids.

The Internet extended the dating services of the past century into a whole new world, social networking. These networks have grown geometrically on the web. Adults and kids use them to find new friends and relationships. Some adults find their mates nowadays using the tools of cyberspace.

Most people hide behind avatars — an icon or figure used as a personification of the computer operator — and use false information when using social networks. This is good practice but does not curb the danger and can even exacerbate it.

Here is a wakeup call to expats with children in Costa Rica. Internet predators are out to get them. They know all the tricks. Expats here are usually of retirement age because they came to retire in this country. Many of them did not count on having a new family in this country, but it happened. Because they are of retirement age, many are not familiar with the Internet or text messaging on cell phones so they do not understand how much danger their kids are facing every day.

This is the scenario. It usually — but not always — starts with a social network on the Internet.

Children take pictures of themselves using webcams on the computers in the house. Webcams are little cameras that are attached to desktop computers but are usually incorporated into portables. Kids open an account — lying through the form questionnaires about their age — on Hi5, MSN, Facebook, or one of the other social networks. Here they post the pictures they took in minutes and add their e-mail address.
Kids all over the world do the same thing.

However, these days children are taking very seductive inappropriate pictures of themselves and using them. High school girls and even grade school children have contests to see who can make the “best” sexy pictures. Sure other kids and classmates write to them, but so do the perverts. The Internet scum bags of the world. Adults usually do not know who they are really communicating with on social networks so how do adults expect their children to know?

The next step in the predators plan is to get as much information as they can from their victims, including phone numbers — especially cellular phone numbers — addresses, workplace information and in the case of children the schools they attend. These potential molesters usually make up a story to get to meet a child or just wait in hiding around a school to snatch them.

What adults and children do not realize is these Internet nut cases are sick people. They thrive on the bond they make with their victim. When the bond is broken — for example a parent discovers the problem — the person in some cases will physically hunt down their prey using the information provided to them over the internet or telephone.

People are not always on or near a computer, but they are usually stuck to their cellular telephone. This is true for children too. Text messaging from cellular telephones is a social network of its own.
If a predator has both avenues of communication to a victim, they have many options to lure kids.

Expats with children or a young wife in Costa Rica need to protect them from these hazards as much as they can. Here are some tips to protect young people, based on extensive research:

  • Talk to loved ones about predators. Tell them that they cannot trust people who they do not know in real life.
  • Have the passwords to your children’s social networking sites and e-mail accounts as much as this is possible. Sometimes this is very difficult because youngsters are a lot more savvy about the Internet then most retired expats. Some networks like Microsoft’s offer parental controls.
  • Give your children a cellular phone with a number that can be looked at using the phone company’s password system. This system is called “ICE clave.” Periodically, check the calls and message lists.
  • Keep computers in an area of the house where there is adult supervision all the time. If the computer has a webcam, regulate its use carefully.
  • Tell your loved ones never to give out any information to anyone they do not know. Never let them meet anyone they have met online.
  • Sit down with your loved ones and get a tour of their social networking sites. If they balk, insist.
  • Being retired or up in years is no reason not to know more about the Internet and especially how text messaging works. Get pointers or training from a friend.
  • This expat is a computer nerd with 30 years experience and a registered Microsoft Partner with all the latest systems and technologies. One of these wackos got through the extensive precautions setup to protect his kids from the evils of the Internet, and that is the reason for this article.


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