ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and along with protecting our own personal or business safety also comes the critical responsibility of how to address this with children.
With much of our everyday lives being shifted online through the pandemic years, child safety advocates say offenders have done the same. That, coupled with greater awareness about the issue, yielded nearly eight million more calls to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The largest of three regional offices outside of the Virginia headquarters, NCMEC’s New York hub is located right in Rochester at 275 Lake Ave. NCMEC works with families, victims, private industry, law enforcement, and the public to assist with preventing child abductions, recovering missing children, and providing services to deter and combat child sexual exploitation.
“Well, I can tell you that last year we received over 29 million reports to our Cyber Tip Line and that number has greatly increased. It was 21.7 million the prior year,” says Debra Ortiz-Pardi, Senior Outreach Manager.
When it comes to how to address internet safety with children, regardless of age, the first step, Ortiz-Pardi explains, is understanding the reality of the state of the evolving online threats.
“It’s so important for parents to know, too, that kids are going to encounter things when they’re using the internet, unfortunately. We probably all have seen stuff online that we wish we could unsee, so it’s not ‘if’ it’s ‘when’. So it’s important for us as parents not to overreact when something does happen. To be supportive. To listen,” Ortiz-Pardi explains.
Establishing trust, and a circle of other trusted adults is also critical.
“I think the important thing to remember too is, it shouldn’t just be one conversation. First of all, it’s very complex. It’s a lot of information to cover so you know these conversations should be byte-sized, should be ongoing, look for teachable moments,” Ortiz-Pardi explains.
Some of the more recent instances the center is tracking are through ‘sextortion,’ defined by the FBI as a serious crime when an offender threatens to distribute private or sensitive material for an exchange of sex acts, sexual images, or money.
The offender may also threaten to harm your friends or relatives by using readily available information online.
“One trend that we’re seeing right now is with financial sextortion where offenders will Photoshop a picture of a child off their social page onto a naked photograph and say ‘Hey I have this image. If you don’t send me money, if you don’t Venmo or cash app me money… or, you need to go down to the corner store and buy a gift card and scratch off the back and give me those numbers’ (sic, or else the alerted image will be publicized),” Ortiz-Pardi detailed.
“We’re seeing those types of trends happening and surprisingly boys tend to be targeted in these instances,” she added.
There are several resources available through the NCMEC website, including specific tools for parents to help start those conversations with children. That can be found here.
The online Cyber Tip link can be found here or you can call NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).