(PIKESVILLE, MD) – Investigators from the Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit are working to raise awareness of how parents and children, along with senior citizens and other vulnerable populations, can do more to protect themselves from potential dangers on the Internet.

The warnings come in conjunction with Safer Internet Day, which takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Safer Internet Day is a global rally that aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues as people of all ages surround themselves with a myriad of digital devices.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in our nation’s youth online activities. The Computer Crimes Unit is seeing a rise in self-generated sexually explicit material by children. This material is also known as sexting, nudes or child sexual abuse material (child pornography).

With a generation of youth as online content creators, it is important for parents to have open communication with their children about content sharing. With both boys and girls involved in sexting behaviors, parents need to have age-appropriate conversations with their children, beginning as soon as they have access to any technological device.

Consider the following:

  • One in six youths, ages 9-17, have admitted to sharing a nude image.
  • Of those, 50% admitted that they didn’t care if they knew the recipient in real life.
  • Also, 41% of those youth who have shared a nude image also sent images to people they believed were adults.
  • One in four of sextortion cases were 13 or younger when they were threatened.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), cases of online enticement, which involve an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction, surged since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, NCMEC recorded 37,872 cases of online enticement, compared to 19,174 in 2019. This represented a 97.5% increase year-over-year.

Safety on the Internet includes the use of any device that has access to online activity.  Investigators from the Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit remind all ages to be vigilant as it relates to Internet safety. Children and senior citizens are often the target populations for online criminal activity.

Parents are encouraged to monitor their children’s use of all digital devices and senior citizens are urged to use the Internet with caution, especially when asked to furnish personal information. Digital devices include laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and ‘smartphones.

Internet Safety Tips for Parents:

  • Place computers in a common area of the house
  • Educate yourself about digital devices and the Internet
  • Make reasonable rules and set screen time limits
  • Reinforce the guiding rule “Don’t talk to strangers”
  • Put accounts in your name and know your child’s passwords
  • Don’t let your children give out personal information online
  • Be aware of other digital devices your child may be using
  • Review the use histories or logs of your digital devices to see where your children have been online

Complaints involving the exploitation of children should be filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at www.missingkids.com or 1-800-THE-LOST. Complaints of child exploitation may include harassment, cyberbullying, sexual abuse, and child pornography. Maryland State Police investigators in the Computer Crimes Unit work closely with NCMEC in the investigation of crimes involving child exploitation. If a child is believed to be in imminent danger, citizens are urged to contact their local police or call 9-1-1 immediately.

 Internet Tips for Senior Citizens:

  • Use extreme caution when sharing personal information online
  • Avoid suspicious emails that ask for personal information
  • Avoid the release of personal information in an unsafe forum
  • Maintain adequate internet security
  • Avoid any requests for remote access to your computer
  • Create strong passwords
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know
  • Always validate someone’s identity before trusting them online

Internet crime schemes that use the internet to prey on the vulnerabilities of people of all ages continue to cost victims time and money. Victims of internet-based crimes are encouraged to file complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) online at www.IC3.gov. Complaints of Internet-based crime may include hacking, credit card fraud, phishing, Internet extortion, and identity theft. The Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit works closely with IC3 in the investigation of these crimes.

The Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit urges people of all ages to take into consideration the vulnerabilities associated with online activity. The Computer Crimes Section operates and administers the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, which is comprised of police agencies statewide that work tirelessly to target offenders of child sexual exploitation.

The Task Force’s primary mission continues to be to protect children from computer-facilitated sexual exploitation.  This goal is achieved by cooperation between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors as they combine resources to combat these crimes.  Additionally, the Task Force also provides community awareness campaigns helping to prevent the spread of these crimes through education.

For those interested in learning more about Internet safety, you can contact Internet Safety Specialist Joe Dugan at joseph.dugan@maryland.gov.

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