Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force

The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, led by the Massachusetts State Police, provides training to law enforcement, coordinates ICAC investigations, and provides public awareness presentations. The Task Force provides support to state and local law enforcement agencies to enhance their investigative response to offenders who use the Internet, online communication systems or other computer technology to sexually exploit children. The Massachusetts ICAC Task Force also acts as a contact for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The Massachusetts State Police Cybertip Line: 413-499-1112 Ext. 307.

Internet Safety

The Internet is an amazing resource that offers us and our children unlimited opportunities for learning, constructive entertainment and personal growth. Any child who is old enough to select a letter on a keyboard can access the World Wide Web. New technologies provide numerous ways to communicate and youth today have fully embraced these technologies which have become a major part of our social structure.

The world of computers and the Internet is constantly expanding and changing and it's not uncommon that children of today are more knowledgeable about computers and the software than adults. However, parents and caregivers have a responsibility to help keep children safe while online. Parents should proactively educate themselves about the computer, the technologies children are using, and become involved with your child's online activities. Teach your children about cyber-ethics and how to interact safely in cyberspace. By taking responsibility for your child's online computer use, you can minimize risks and exposure to online danger. Prevention is the key and the best tool for protecting your child.

Tips and Strategies for Parents

  • Become computer literate.
  • Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch and monitor your child's on-line activity.
  • Take a hands-on approach. Become aware of what your child sees and hears on the Internet, who your child engages with, and what information they share about themselves.
  • Create a family agreement that supports a fun, safe online environment with rules specifying an acceptable time of day for computer use, length of time allowed online, and appropriate websites to visit. Both you and your child should sign the agreement.
  • Internet accounts should be in the parents' name(s) with parents having the primary screen name and controlling password.
  • Learn the services your child uses, including chat, instant messaging (IM), social networking, gaming, message boards, and blogging sites. Learn how they work and what tools are offered to protect you and your child's privacy.
  • Consider blocking, filtering, monitoring and rating software for your computer. Check with your Internet service provider (ISP) as some have software for purchase or for free. However, remember that software can not take the place of a caring adult.
  • Talk to your child about what he/she may encounter online. Instruct them that if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, exit the program, turn off the computer, and immediately notify a trusted adult.
  • Notify your ISP and/or law enforcement officials if appropriate.
  • Balance your child's online activities with other important life activities.

Real Life Rules Apply: "Golden rules" of behavior are passed down from generation to generation. Parents should practice this same philosophy with cyber rules to regulate their child's behavior in cyberspace:

  • Real life rules apply: Always be courteous, thoughtful and respectful.
  • Don't talk to strangers. Teach your child that talking to a stranger online is the same as talking to a stranger in the street. Remind them that it's not easy to spot a stranger online. Anyone can pretend to be someone else on the Internet.
  • Come home after school. Just as you wouldn't want your child roaming the streets, wandering online is no different. Allowing your child to spend unlimited time surfing the Web aimlessly is asking for trouble.
  • Just as parents should be who their child's friends are, the same applies to the Internet. Instruct your child to stay away from strangers on-line; even if you think you know them, there is no guarantee they have been honest.
  • Take note of where your child goes online and who they communicate with. Remind your child never to agree to meet an on-line friend in person without a parent's involvement.
  • Using the Internet to threaten, harass, or intimidate under any circumstance is referred to as "cyberbullying" and can have significant consequences. Be aware of changes in your child's behavior indicating a possible problem.
  • Remind your child that what is said or posted on the Internet is never private. Information, including posted photos and videos, can last forever.
  • Don't share any personal or identifying information such as date of birth, home address, phone numbers etc.
  • Don't steal. Downloading music without paying for it or copying a friend's computer game, although common, is wrong and illegal. You could be sued or charged with a crime.

The Internet provides unlimited methods of communication. Here are some applications parents should understand:

E-mail: Email is electronic mail or messages sent from one address to another. It can include attachments such as pictures, sound, video or text.

E-mail Risks

  • Spam (junk mail)
  • No privacy-email can easily be distributed to the whole world
  • Computer viruses
  • Bullying
  • School or social trouble

E-mail Tips

  • Set up a family email address that can be used and shared amongst the entire family and monitored by the parent
  • Protect passwords
  • Guard personal information
  • Never open emails or attachments from an unknown person/source
  • Delete chain letters

Instant Messaging (IM): Instant Message is a communication service allowing two or more users who are on-line at the same time to correspond. It is faster than email because it happens in "real time" and can be accessed from any computer.

IM Risks

  • It's an unfiltered communication allowing strangers to contact your child
  • It's hard to monitor
  • Can consume too much time of your child's time
  • Online profiles are searchable
  • Heightened risk of trouble with peers/school
  • Heightened risk of cyberbullying
  • Exposure to personal information once trust is established

IM Tips

  • Check screen names and profiles and discuss good choices
  • Know your child's password
  • Know your child's IM buddies
  • Use parental controls and other settings and preferences
  • Stay involved and talk to other parents
  • Use a log feature to monitor your child's accounts (monitoring software)

Chat Rooms: Chat rooms are areas online that allow multiple members to "chat" in real time. Chat rooms can present as an individual website or be part of a website providing users with a venue to discuss common interests. All participants in a chat room see each message posted. Some chat rooms are monitored by the site host, but not every site is monitored.

Chat Risks

  • Higher risk that a child will reveal information that can personally identify him/her
  • Chat rooms and "one on one" conversation can easily transition to offline private chats
  • Unmonitored chat can have inappropriate language and sexual content
  • Predators can easily monitor chat rooms and target individuals

Chat Tips

  • Don't allow your child to participate in unmonitored chat rooms
  • Teach your child not to give out any personal information
  • Teach your child never to meet online friends offline without a parent or adult
  • Set rules and monitor them carefully
  • Research and install monitoring software which can assist

Blogs and Social Networks: A weblog or blog is a personal website reading like a diary or journal.

Social networks allow members to join around shared interests. They have been compared to a town hall meeting, water cooler talk, or likened to working on a yearbook for the internet generation. Some of the better-known social networking sites are: Myspace, Xanga, and Facebook.

Blogs and Social Network Risks

  • Strangers/predators
  • Privacy issues, such as photo distribution
  • Risk to reputation
  • Cyberbullying

Blogs and Social Network Tips

  • Obtain your child's usernames and passwords for all social networking sites
  • Set usage time limits on these sites
  • Limit blogging time
  • Create a site with your teen, monitoring the content and making sure no personal information is displayed on the site
  • Discourage the posting of any photos-they can be copied and used by anyone or widely distributed
  • Instruct your child that many people (parents, schools, teachers, potential employers, bad guys etc) are potentially looking at these sites
  • There are specific age restrictions (generally age 14) on these sites. As the parent, makes sure these rules are adhered to.