FDP Chief Ed Gebhart said takes the statement seriously, which is why he hosted a Feb. 23 Chat with the Chief Zoom call open to the public educating parents on ways they can protect their children from internet crimes. LPD Majors Mike Pederson and Mike Johnson joined Gebhart during the virtual event.
The Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce, or ICAC, is housed inside FPD headquarters. It includes Fishers, Carmel, Westfield and Noblesville police officers as well as a Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office officer and an Indiana Dept. of Homeland Security officer. There are 61 ICAC taskforces nationwide. The FPD Taskforce is an affiliate of the Indiana State Police Taskforce. The FPD Taskforce’s jurisdiction encompasses Hamilton, Madison, Tipton, Hancock and Clinton counties.
Gebhart said one of FPD’s most frequently asked questions about its taskforce is how it receives information.
Pederson said last year, the Fishers taskforce received 250 tips. Collectively, the state received more than 7,000 tips. Pederson said they mostly come from internet providers or people calling to report a case.
“As far as tips coming in, nationwide there’s an upward trend. Within Fishers, there’s an upward trend,” Pederson said. “Within anywhere you’re looking right now, there is an upward trend. We can speculate as to why that is happening, but I can tell you the numbers are up and because of that, we need to be vigilant. We need to be aware. We need to be knowing what our children are doing.”
Another common question is: Which platforms render children most vulnerable? Pederson said anything that links to the web can expose children to predators.
“You’ve got kids linking into Instagram, Snapchat. I understand they want to have these social platforms and there are benefits to having these social platforms, but anything you can link into,” Pederson said. “It could be a video game system. Anything where you present yourself to an open public, there is the opportunity for people to victimize.”
Apps such as Snapchat and Instagram have rules for users. For example, Instagram requires users to be at least 13 years old. But the requirement does little to stop predators.
“Just like criminals do as adults, criminals will figure out a way around those,” Pederson said.
Pederson advises parents and children to be careful of what they display on social media, such as showing a T-shirt that has the name of the child’s elementary school.
“We have to be careful because any information we are putting out there to the public can easily be used as some sort of avenue for a predator trying to figure out a way to identify a child,” Pederson said. “We have to police ourselves or second-check ourselves on some things we are putting out there. We don’t want addresses or street signs or any specifics that could lead to a potential clue or lead a predator to identifying this child goes to this school.
“I understand we cannot be living in a bubble, and that’s not the message I’m getting at, but be cognizant of what you’re putting out there.”
Gebhart shared a story of when his own daughter was 7, she was playing a video game that connected to the internet. She was approached by a subject asking relationship questions, which Gebhart assumed were early baiting questions.
“It was very alarming, and she let us know,” Gebhart said. “Even in my house, I’ve seen attempts to get to my daughter.”
Johnson suggests parents install tracking software and apps to monitor what their children do online. He also recommends parents have access to a child’s username or password so they can log into their child’s social media accounts.
“You can see direct messages and conversations,” Johnson said. “You can see what they see. Don’t go on like you’re one of their friends because you’re not one of their friends. You’re the parent.”
Johnson also recommends that parents limit the number of social media platforms for their children. He said parents should watch for vault apps, which are designed to look like an ordinary app, such as a calculator, but when a code is entered, it leads you to a private file.
“Parents may not even know it’s there, but you are looking through a child’s device and you notice they’ve got two calculators,” Johnson said. “Know what’s on their phone and understand how it works.”
Gebhart said other signs a child may be engaging in risky behavior is spending an obsessive amount of time on their phone or computer. When the technology is restricted, the child may become aggravated. He also cautions about gifts showing up at the family home for a child from an unknown sender.
A resource page on the FPD website provides resources for parents about internet safety. For more, visit fishers.in.us/1414/Internet-Safety-for-Parents.