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It’s a time unlike any other.
As people remain homebound, they rely more and more on the internet to connect with others.
This is especially true for children and teenagers, who are now logging into virtual classrooms instead of showing up at school buildings.
In this unusual time, the Bolivar Police Department wants to remind the community to practice caution when online.
Lt. Roger Barron says “this is uncharted territory for all of us.”
“We are just now beginning to see the effects a pandemic has on a modern society,” he says.
In the modern world, “online safety affects everyone, from our senior adults down to toddlers,” Barron says.
“Online predators are looking for any weakness to exploit whomever they can,” he says. “Regardless of the age, cyber victimization affects the entire family, and those effects can linger for years.”
The online threats can come in a variety of forms.
Senior citizens could be susceptible to “scams to separate them from their money or even their homes,” Barron says.
Adults can be targeted for identity theft and fraud.
“Children are at risk for sexual exploitation and cyber bullying, and they could inadvertently introduce cyber viruses into home networks,” Barron says.
In reality, he says children are vulnerable to these attacks any time they use the internet.
However, “as more and more time may be spent online during current stay-at-home orders issued by various government agencies, these threats could be intensified,” Barron says.
He says it’s much like driving a car.
“The more miles or more often a person drives, the more likely they could be involved in a crash,” Barron says. “With so many children having to engage in online learning, new websites may be introduced that could be targeted by hackers, especially in cases of video conferencing where multiple users are present.”
He says the same idea applies to adults who now find themselves working from home.
Barron says online predators can come in many forms.
“They can be young or old and come from all walks of life,” he says. “There have been police officers, doctors, church officials, school teachers, students, homemakers, truck drivers and all other conceivable people engaged in cyber crimes.”
That’s because, Barron says, those hurting others online “can be whomever they want to be or whomever you want them to be.”
Many times, predators seeking to hurt children and young adults hide behind sites and apps those age groups find appealing, he adds.
“They are in tune with popular culture for the ages they target and use that to their advantage,” he says.
Barron says children are usually trusting and feel they are technologically savvy.
“Some apps sneak in requirements to share access to photos, videos, call and messaging logs, and may even try and make you feel better by telling you that they don’t retain any of the data,” he says. “Unfortunately, by accepting that app and clicking ‘OK,’ you are releasing ownership and control of that data.”
He says a recent trend in cyber crime is to entice people, including children, to take and send inappropriate photos or videos and then use those images to blackmail the person.
“When installing apps, be sure to watch for what permissions the app is requesting, such as access to the camera, picture gallery or call recordings,” he says.
He adds that many malicious websites “mimic legitimate sites by using similar spellings or common use terms, however the suffix is not the same.”
For instance, a malicious website might end with the suffix “.org” instead of “.com.”
It’s important for parents and guardians to monitor the browsing history on devices children use, Barron says, so they can understand where their children are going online.
Changes in behavior should be a warning sign for those caring for children and teens.
“If someone starts acting differently after spending time on the internet, it’s a good idea to try and determine why,” he says. “If people are being secretive about their internet use, or overly protective of their devices, that could be an indicator that something isn’t right.”
One way to protect children is to be involved, Barron adds.
“Know what your kids are doing,” he says. “Make sure that you check devices frequently but at random.”
He says it’s important to create a list of passwords for children’s and teenagers’ social media accounts, as well as set up user accounts that use age appropriate internet restrictions and filters.
“Keep quality anti-virus software on all your devices and consider the use of virtual private networks if you have to regularly engage in video conferencing,” he adds.
Barron also recommends setting time limits for being online.
“While stay-at-home orders are in effect, it’s easy to become sedentary and spend all of our time online,” he says. “Making sure that there is physical activity is important, even if it’s just a 30-minute game of soccer in the backyard or a walk around the block.”
He says setting a routine or schedule will help keep both adults and children “on track and back to normal.”
It’s also helpful to enjoy the real world, outside of the internet.
“Spend time each day looking for positives in our day-to-day life, like flowers coming into bloom, trees gaining leaves, squirrels playing,” Barron says. “Sometimes, we may forget that there is more to life than electronics.”