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March 5, 2013

STANCZYKIEWICZ: Keeping kids safe online

One online incident was relatively harmless. The other was not. Both stories teach important lessons for keeping kids safe in cyberspace.

College football star Manti Te’o likely will suffer no more than personal embarrassment after the girlfriend he supposedly met online did not really exist. The same cannot be said for the teenagers who went online and met Richard L. Finkbiner.

Finkbiner has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of sexual exploitation of minors by inducing and coercing them into sexually explicit activity online. Federal authorities say Finkbiner would visit anonymous video chat websites where he deceived teenagers into conducting sexually inappropriate behaviors which he secretly recorded. Finkbiner then allegedly threatened to post those images digitally unless the teens allowed him to record behaviors even more explicit.

“As use of the Internet and cell phones has increased, the danger of coming in contact with online predators has increased as well,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, Joe Hogsett, whose office prosecuted the Finkbiner case.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 42 percent of seventh through ninth graders reported communicating with at least one online stranger in the last year. In addition, one-third of children have experienced unwanted exposure to sexual material on the Internet, and 14 percent of youth between 10 to 17 years old have received unwanted sexual solicitations online.

According to Hogsett, predators are lurking on Facebook and other social networking sites, in online chat rooms, on video websites and in online gaming sites. “What we have observed in recent years is that online predators currently seek out minors who are already engaging in risky behavior using online social networking sites and 'anonymous' chat websites,” Hogsett said. “What ties them all together is that in almost every case, the predator used online attention, affection and gifts to victimize the minors.”

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