Parent's Guide to Internet Safety
a PDF version of this Guide
A Parent's Guide to Internet
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation -
Our children are our Nation's most
valuable asset. They represent the bright future of our country and
hold our hopes for a better Nation. Our children are also the most
vulnerable members of society. Protecting our children against the fear
of crime and from becoming victims of crime must be a national priority.
Unfortunately the same advances in
computer and telecommunication technology that allow our children to
reach out to new sources of knowledge and cultural experiences are also
leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and harm by computer-sex
I hope that this pamphlet helps you
to begin to understand the complexities of on-line child exploitation.
For further information, please contact your local FBI office or the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678.
Louis J. Freeh, Former Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
While on-line computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for
children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different
cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit
the road exploring the information highway. There are individuals who
attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of on-line
services and the Internet. Some of these individuals gradually seduce
their targets through the use of attention, affection, kindness, and
even gifts. These individuals are often willing to devote considerable
amounts of time, money, and energy in this process. They listen to and
empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the
latest music, hobbies, and interests of children. These individuals
attempt to gradually lower children's inhibitions by slowly introducing
sexual context and content into their conversations.
There are other individuals, however, who immediately engage in
sexually explicit conversation with children. Some offenders primarily
collect and trade child-pornographic images, while others seek
face-to-face meetings with children via on-line contacts. It is
important for parents to understand that children can be indirectly
victimized through conversation, i.e. "chat," as well as the transfer
of sexually explicit information and material. Computer-sex offenders
may also be evaluating children they come in contact with on-line for
future face-to-face contact and direct victimization. Parents and
children should remember that a computer-sex offender can be any age or
sex the person does not have to fit the caricature of a dirty, unkempt,
older man wearing a raincoat to be someone who could harm a child.
Children, especially adolescents, are sometimes interested in and
curious about sexuality and sexually explicit material. They may be
moving away from the total control of parents and seeking to establish
new relationships outside their family. Because they may be curious,
children/adolescents sometimes use their on-line access to actively
seek out such materials and individuals. Sex offenders targeting
children will use and exploit these characteristics and needs. Some
adolescent children may also be attracted to and lured by on-line
offenders closer to their age who, although not technically child
molesters, may be dangerous. Nevertheless, they have been seduced and
manipulated by a clever offender and do not fully understand or
recognize the potential danger of these contacts.
This guide was prepared from actual investigations involving child
victims, as well as investigations where law enforcement officers posed
as children. Further information on protecting your child on-line may
be found in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's
Child Safety on the Information Highway and Teen Safety on the
Information Highway pamphlets.
What Are Signs That Your Child
Might Be At Risk On-line?
Your child spends large amounts of
time on-line, especially at night.
Most children that fall victim to
computer-sex offenders spend large amounts of time on-line,
particularly in chat rooms. They may go on-line after dinner and on the
weekends. They may be latchkey kids whose parents have told them to
stay at home after school. They go on-line to chat with friends, make
new friends, pass time, and sometimes look for sexually explicit
information. While much of the knowledge and experience gained may be
valuable, parents should consider monitoring the amount of time spent
You find pornography on your child's
Children on-line are at the greatest risk during the evening hours.
While offenders are on-line around the clock, most work during the day
and spend their evenings on-line trying to locate and lure children or
Pornography is often used in the sexual
victimization of children. Sex offenders often supply their potential
victims with pornography as a means of opening sexual discussions and
for seduction. Child pornography may be used to show the child victim
that sex between children and adults is "normal." Parents should be
conscious of the fact that a child may hide the pornographic files on
diskettes from them. This may be especially true if the computer is
used by other family members.
Your child receives phone calls from
men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to
numbers you don't recognize.
While talking to a child victim on-line
is a thrill for a computer-sex offender, it can be very cumbersome.
Most want to talk to the children on the telephone. They often engage
in "phone sex" with the children and often seek to set up an actual
meeting for real sex.
Your child receives mail, gifts, or
packages from someone you don't know.
While a child may be hesitant to give out his/her home phone number,
the computer-sex offenders will give out theirs. With Caller ID, they
can readily find out the child's phone number. Some computer-sex
offenders have even obtained toll-free 800 numbers, so that their
potential victims can call them without their parents finding out.
Others will tell the child to call collect. Both of these methods
result in the computer-sex offender being able to find out the child's
As part of the seduction process, it is
common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of
gifts to their potential victims. Computer-sex offenders have even sent
plane tickets in order for the child to travel across the country to
Your child turns the computer monitor
off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the
A child looking at pornographic images
or having sexually explicit conversations does not want you to see it
on the screen.
Your child becomes withdrawn from the
Computer-sex offenders will work very
hard at driving a wedge between a child and their family or at
exploiting their relationship. They will accentuate any minor problems
at home that the child might have. Children may also become withdrawn
after sexual victimization.
Your child is using an on-line account
belonging to someone else.
Even if you don't subscribe to an
on-line service or Internet service, your child may meet an offender
while on-line at a friend's house or the library. Most computers come
preloaded with on-line and/or Internet software. Computer-sex offenders
will sometimes provide potential victims with a computer account for
communications with them.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Your
Child Is Communicating With A Sexual Predator On-line?
Should any of the following situations arise in your household,
via the Internet or on-line service, you
should immediately contact your local or state law enforcement agency,
the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
- Consider talking openly with your child about your suspicions.
Tell them about the dangers of computer-sex offenders.
- Review what is on your child's computer. If you don't know how,
ask a friend, coworker, relative, or other knowledgeable person.
Pornography or any kind of sexual communication can be a warning sign.
- Use the Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child.
Most telephone companies that offer Caller ID also offer a service that
allows you to block your number from appearing on someone else's Caller
ID. Telephone companies also offer an additional service feature that
rejects incoming calls that you block. This rejection feature prevents
computer-sex offenders or anyone else from calling your home
- Devices can be purchased that show telephone numbers that have
been dialed from your home phone. Additionally, the last number called
from your home phone can be retrieved provided that the telephone is
equipped with a redial feature. You will also need a telephone pager to
complete this retrieval.
- This is done using a numeric-display pager and another phone that
is on the same line as the first phone with the redial feature. Using
the two phones and the pager, a call is placed from the second phone to
the pager. When the paging terminal beeps for you to enter a telephone
number, you press the redial button on the first (or suspect) phone.
The last number called from that phone will then be displayed on the
- Monitor your child's access to all types of live electronic
communications (i.e., chat rooms, instant messages, Internet Relay
Chat, etc.), and monitor your child's e-mail. Computer-sex offenders
almost always meet potential victims via chat rooms. After meeting a
child on-line, they will continue to communicate electronically often
- Your child or anyone in the household has received child
- Your child has been sexually solicited by someone who knows that
your child is under 18 years of age;
- Your child has received sexually explicit images from someone
that knows your child is under the age of 18.
If one of these scenarios occurs, keep the computer turned off in order
to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use. Unless
directed to do so by the law enforcement agency, you should not attempt
to copy any of the images and/or text found on the computer.
What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances
Of An On-line Exploiter Victimizing Your Child?
Frequently Asked Questions:
My child has received an e-mail
advertising for a pornographic website, what should I do?
- Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization
and potential on-line danger.
- Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about
their favorite on-line destinations.
- Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your
child's bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender
to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a
parent or another member of the household.
- Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider
and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place
for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of
interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat
rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should
utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.
- Always maintain access to your child's on-line account and
randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be
contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your
access and reasons why.
- Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line.
There is much more to the on-line experience than chat rooms.
- Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child's
school, the public library, and at the homes of your child's friends.
These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child
could encounter an on-line predator.
- Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any
form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the
victim. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his
or her actions.
- Instruct your children:
- to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met
- to never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet
or on-line service to people they do not personally know;
- to never give out identifying information such as their name,
home address, school name, or telephone number;
- to never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is
a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;
- to never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that
are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing;
- that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.
Generally, advertising for an adult,
pornographic website that is sent to an e-mail address does not violate
federal law or the current laws of most states. In some states it may
be a violation of law if the sender knows the recipient is under the
age of 18. Such advertising can be reported to your service provider
and, if known, the service provider of the originator. It can also be
reported to your state and federal legislators, so they can be made
aware of the extent of the problem.
Is any service safer than the others?
Sex offenders have contacted children
via most of the major on-line services and the Internet. The most
important factors in keeping your child safe on-line are the
utilization of appropriate blocking software and/or parental controls,
along with open, honest discussions with your child, monitoring his/her
on-line activity, and following the tips in this pamphlet.
Should I just forbid my child from
There are dangers in every part of our
society. By educating your children to these dangers and taking
appropriate steps to protect them, they can benefit from the wealth of
information now available on-line.
- An immense, global
network that connects computers via telephone lines and/or fiber
networks to storehouses of electronic information. With only a
computer, a modem, a telephone line and a service provider, people from
all over the world can communicate and share information with little
more than a few keystrokes.
Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs)
Electronic networks of computers that are connected by a central
computer setup and operated by a system administrator or operator and
are distinguishable from the Internet by their "dial-up" accessibility.
BBS users link their individual computers to the central BBS computer
by a modem which allows them to post messages, read messages left by
others, trade information, or hold direct conversations. Access to a
BBS can, and often is, privileged and limited to those users who have
access privileges granted by the systems operator.
Commercial On-line Service (COS)
- Examples of COSs are America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe and
Microsoft Network, which provide access to their service for a fee.
COSs generally offer limited access to the Internet as part of their
total service package.
Internet Service Provider (ISP)
- Examples of ISPs are Erols, Concentric and Netcom. These services
offer direct, full access to the Internet at a flat, monthly rate and
often provide electronic-mail service for their customers. ISPs often
provide space on their servers for their customers to maintain World
Wide Web (WWW) sites. Not all ISPs are commercial enterprises.
Educational, governmental and nonprofit organizations also provide
Internet access to their members.
Public Chat Rooms
maintained, listed and monitored by the COS and other public domain
systems such as Internet Relay Chat. A number of customers can be in
the public chat rooms at any given time, which are monitored for
illegal activity and even appropriate language by systems operators
(SYSOP). Some public chat rooms are monitored more frequently than
others, depending on the COS and the type of chat room. Violators can
be reported to the administrators of the system (at America On-line
they are referred to as terms of service [TOS]) which can revoke user
privileges. The public chat rooms usually cover a broad range of topics
such as entertainment, sports, game rooms, children only, etc.
Electronic Mail (E-Mail)
function of BBSs, COSs and ISPs which provides for the transmission of
messages and files between computers over a communications network
similar to mailing a letter via the postal service. E-mail is stored on
a server, where it will remain until the addressee retrieves it.
Anonymity can be maintained by the sender by predetermining what the
receiver will see as the "from" address. Another way to conceal one's
identity is to use an "anonymous remailer," which is a service that
allows the user to send an e-mail message repackaged under the
remailer's own header, stripping off the originator's name completely.
- Real-time text
conversation between users in a chat room with no expectation of
privacy. All chat conversation is accessible by all individuals in the
chat room while the conversation is taking place.
real-time text conversation between two users in a chat room.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
Real-time text conversation similar to public and/or private chat rooms
- Like a
giant, cork bulletin board where users post messages and information.
Each posting is like an open letter and is capable of having
attachments, such as graphic image files (GIFs). Anyone accessing the
newsgroup can read the postings, take copies of posted items, or post
responses. Each newsgroup can hold thousands of postings. Currently,
there are over 29,000 public newsgroups and that number is growing
daily. Newsgroups are both public and/or private. There is no listing
of private newsgroups. A user of private newsgroups has to be invited
into the newsgroup and be provided with the newsgroup's address.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Cyber Division, Innocent Images
11700 Beltsville Drive
Calverton, MD 20705
Contact your local FBI office for further information.