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Police tackle internet safety concerns at community forum

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Greenville Police Detective Glen Webb answers questions during an internet safety forum Tuesday night.

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The digital footprint people create online can be seen by next-door neighbors and strangers halfway around the world. That makes it dangerous, according to local law enforcement officials.

Online, strangers can easily exploit, control and manipulate children with the click of a button.

“Statistically, children are more likely to be struck by lightning than be kidnapped by a stranger,” Greenville Police Detective Glen Webb said. “However, in their pockets  — with their cellphones or on their laptops — we're opening them up to seven billion people in the world.”

Webb was a featured speaker at Tuesday evening internet safety forum held at the Mormon church. The forum was hosted by the Greenville Police Department's Community Relations Committee.

Several topics were discussed, including cyber crimes and the growing number of social media platforms.

Cybercrimes are crimes committed by digital means, Webb said. Some of the most common digital crimes include cyberstalking, cyberbullying, fraud and solicitation of minors.

Cyberstalking is something that Webb said affects many high school and college students. And it goes beyond someone following you around.

“Cyberstalking has very little to do with following a person around or tapping your phone,” Webb said. “It centers around harrassment.”

Solicitation of minors is also a common crime in Pitt County. Webb told attendees that he has seen firsthand how prevalent child predators are.

“We had a guy come up here that thought I was a 12 year-old girl. We've also had cases dealing with people trafficking in child pornography,” Webb said. “You don't have to go far to find this. It's a silent crime. It's happening on people's phones and laptops.”

With the evolution of social media networks and apps being created and downloaded daily, Webb said the challenge for many parents is keeping up.

“We all worry about our kids,” Webb said. “I'm a dad and I worry about my kids when they're outside and they're playing and we're worried about them getting taken out of the yard. And there's a lot of different ways kids can be taken advantage of than just in person. When we give our kids so much power, we're opening up to the entire world.”

Common apps that Webb warned against include messaging apps like Kik and Snap Chat, which allow messages, photos and videos to be easily concealed. Other apps are imitations of what the naked eye would perceive as harmless, legitimate applications.

“Kids will lie to you and they will hide stuff places and in different apps,” he said. “They will take total advantage of you if you're not well versed in what applications are available on their smartphones and computers.”

Webb said parents should be proactive and listen to what their children and teenagers are saying.

“You can go through all their texts and it appears they're talking about bible study and how they really want to make As in school and make mom and dad proud, then you find that other app and find out what they're really talking about,” he said.

Webb said parents need to always check direct messages that children are sending on various applications.

“They use three or four different platforms,” Webb said. “I know a guy in Ayden whose daughter had two Instagram pages. I alerted him to one of her accoutns because it included all the shady stuff she was doing. The other account had all the normal stuff, posts of flowery dresses and church and school and happy things.”

Webb said his house is Fort Knox when it comes to technology. He does not allow his children to have computers or cellphones in their bedrooms and requires them to go in the living room or other areas where their activity can be monitored.

Other ways to keep children safe include limiting what apps they download. Lt. Carlton Williams of the Greenville Police Department, who also is a father, sets parental controls on the family's cellphone sharing plan. Before his children download an app, they have to get approval from Williams.

City Councilman Rick Smiley spoke about safety measures he uses, including programming his router to shut down internet access at a certain time. Webb said that setting such paramaters and expectations is paramount to keeping children safe when they use technology.

Other topics at the forum included privacy concerns, ways to conduct background checks on your children and common network security issues.

To arrange a safety presentation, contact the Greenville Police Department at  329-4339.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR

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