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Special Agents Warn Students about Dangers of Internet Crime

May 5, 2006 – An increase in Internet crime cases is becoming an alarming trend across the nation, and it's picking up in the Virgin Islands, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents speaking to students at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School on St. Thomas this week.
Based on recent statistics, agents said that one out of every five girls and one out of every 10 boys is solicited by online sexual predators. They cautioned students to be aware of what information they are sending out about themselves over the Internet.
Special agent Rebecca Gonzalez of ICE's cyber crime unit in Puerto Rico said, "That's why we say that even though the Internet can be a very good research tool, it can also be very dangerous – especially when you don't know who you're talking to on the other side of the screen."
To illustrate this point, Gonzalez and Louis Penn Jr., a St. Thomas ICE special agent, showed students a video about a 13-year-old girl who ran away from home with a 56-year-old man she met online.
"He was the person I trusted most," the young girl said, explaining that the man quickly became her confidant after he showed that he was interested in her daily activities, hobbies and family affairs.
After the video, Gonzalez told students that online predators commonly research things like sports, movies and music to slowly "groom" teens into becoming their friends. She said that predators also often look for teens who are "vulnerable" and are looking for a friend to talk to.
"This is where you have to be careful," she warned. "These people do not want to have a relationship with you – instead, what they want to do is exploit and manipulate you."
After the discussion, Penn said he is often fearful about the impact Internet crime could have on teenagers in the Virgin Islands. "Especially here, where we see many of our young women dating men much older than they are."
"And that's why we were asked to hold this meeting – because teachers in various schools across the island were becoming concerned about the things they were seeing or finding on school computers and student cell phones," he said.
Gonzalez told students to automatically become wary if they are chatting with a person online who tries to isolate them from friends and family, who talks suggestively or inappropriately, who asks for personal information or who threatens them.
"All of those things should raise a red flag for you," she said.
While Gonzalez said that most instances of Internet crime begin in chat rooms, online Web sites such as "hi5" or "MySpace" are evolving into another threat, since predators are able to recover a lot of personal information about visitors from their postings or profiles.
Another video shown to students showed how an online predator could obtain a person's full name, home address, telephone number, school address and schedule just by looking at their screen name.
"You should also never forward e-mail to everyone in your address book," Penn added. "Because then, a whole bunch of people you don't know will have a way to contact you, and access to the information posted on your email account."
Many students said they frequently posted information on sites like "hi5" that reveal their ages, home addresses and even their social security numbers. Pictures are also commonly posted, which Gonzalez said could be copied, altered and used for child pornography.
She recommended that students not post pictures, and told them to limit the information they're giving out to other online chatters. "We're trying to stay ahead of the game on this," she said.
"While chat room related crime is not new, these various Web sites are, and it's scary to think about how many children could be solicited by online predators in the future. We just want to make sure the students know what they're dealing with, and how to handle themselves over the Internet."
Gonzalez, Penn, and Hilary Hodge Jr., ICE resident agent in charge on St. Thomas, made similar presentations this week at Charlotte Amalie and Ivanna Eudora Kean high schools, as well as Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School.

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