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 At Becton forum, police say Internet poses risks to teens

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By Chris Neidenberg / Reporter

EAST RUTHERFORD (Dec. 10, 2010) — Just like a real highway, the Information Superhighway can present potentially hazardous obstacles to unsuspecting juveniles, an investigator with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s cybercrimes squad warned parents.

The occasion was a 90-minute forum, “Safety on the Internet — A Parent and Teacher’s Guide,” conducted by Detective Jett Angermeyer, a member of the prosecutor’s Computer Crimes Task Force. It was held in Henry P. Becton Regional High School’s auditorium, Nov. 18.

The investigator conducts these seminars all over the county. East Rutherford Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Rota invited him to speak and show a slide presentation to parents and educators from Becton, its two sending districts of East Rutherford and Carlstadt, as well as Rutherford. At Rota’s request, Becton provided its spacious auditorium.

Joining Rota was BRHS Principal David Mango. Students were not allowed to attend; they can partake in separate presentations. The behavior of pre-teens and teens was discussed.

Angermeyer is one of 33 task force investigators. He works with other officers deputized from municipal departments countywide, and a group of detectives working directly out of the prosecutor’s office. He works with the Hillsdale Police Department.

The task force’s mission: to nab criminals lurking throughout the county’s 234 square miles, over 70 municipalities, who use the worldwide Web literally as a web.

That is, to snare persons, including juveniles and young adults, into making poor choices. Angermeyer warned those choices could ultimately traumatize victims for years, causing lasting psychological damage or a far worse fate.

At the same time, Angermeyer warned, juveniles misusing the technology, by doing stupid acts such as sharing photo files promoting child pornography, could be nabbed as criminals themselves.

Rota explained he became interested in the topic of cybercrimes, and their potentially devastating impact on young people, upon attending a Rutgers University seminar about 10 years ago for another district.

He told the small audience that, when it comes to adolescents and the digital world, parents must keep a steady eve on how they use these constantly-evolving technological tools available through things like computers, Blackberries and cell phones. Tools principally discussed were the Internet and text messaging.

If parents fail to do so, Rota warned, this technology might be turned against vulnerable youths in dangerous ways.

Neither Rota nor Angermeyer suggested preventing youths from using the technology on their own, given it also has benefits. They simply asked parents to exercise due diligence.

“Since that’s part of their universe, we have to understand that as parents,” the superintendent said. “But we must also understand there are inherent risks associated with it.”

Topics Angermeyer covered included: using the Web and its attendant tools such as e-mail, social networking sites and blogs, to commit sex crimes, scams, start inappropriate and even illegal adult-juvenile relationships, spread messages of hate or threaten violence, as well as “cyberbullying.”

On the latter subject, the detective conceded law enforcement has only recently been looking seriously at how to best grapple with the issue. It gained wider attention in New Jersey recently when a Rutgers student committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. His death came after two classmates, using a Webcam, secretly filmed him engaging in a homosexual relationship, officials said.

He also showed some public service videos depicting sobering scenarios that could lead youths into a heap of cyber-trouble.

The detective strongly endorsed their simple concluding message: “Think before you post.”

Angermeyer noted that Bergen County’s “socioeconomic makeup” placed many residents “well ahead of the curve” in learning to use the Internet, since they were affluent enough to buy personal computers when it first took off about 15 years ago.

Conversely, he said, county law enforcement authorities began exploring how the Net could be potentially abused early in the game.

“I don’t know of one person in our unit who wouldn’t volunteer their time if they didn’t believe in it,” said Angermeyer.

But since those early years, the detective noted, the cyberworld has literally exploded with a slew of handheld devices, in addition to more laptops, making it much easier for teens to use Web tools outside the home and during school.

Indeed, many cell phones are equipped with Web access, and unlimited texting, as part of providers’ plan packages.

Thus, Angermeyer said, concerned adults must help law enforcement by taking a greater interest as well.

“It’s important for parents, it’s important for teachers, to know what’s really going on out there,” he urged.

Angermeyer also called for parents to set aside the inherent trust they have in their children, believing that they will do the right thing, as a basic safety precaution.

“We don’t want to be suspicious of a child, and think they’d lie to me,” he said. “(Parents think) ‘How can they lie to me?’ ”

“Online slang,” was one example Angermeyer cited in urging better vigilance. He displayed on the projection screen a 21st century dictionary of dozens of terms and abbreviations tailored for e-mailing and texting, many of them harmless (like the familiar “LOL,” for “laughing out loud”). But some not so.

In the latter category, Angermeyer cited the digits “420.”

“4-20 (April 20) is Hitler’s birthday and the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings,” he explained.

For the latter, he was referring to the horrific 1999 murders that occurred in the high school at Littleton, Colo.

“(In using the numbers) ‘420,’ they could be shouting out something concerning hatred or violence, whether it’s in reference to Hitler, the Nazi Party or the anniversary of the Columbine shootings,” Angermeyer cautioned. “‘420’ should be a red flag.”

Social networking site “tricks” and abuses were also covered and Angermeyer put most of the focus on Facebook, perhaps the hottest site used worldwide for that purpose at the moment.

While parents might know their child’s main Facebook page/password, Angermeyer said they mostly likely don’t know that the typical Facebook teen keeps multiple pages and passwords.

The detective raised the potential for more mischievous, or even devious, uses. Angermeyer cited “case studies” suggesting a widespread practice.

Showing a social page stemming from one of his own cases, Angermeyer explained how a high school girl mentioned that she was 21, in an apparent bid to find an older male suitor, when it was clear she was much younger.

How did he find that out? The same girl mentioned she was still attending high school on another part of the page. Turns out she was only 17.

“We know they will play what we call ‘age games,’ ” the detective told parents.

Angermeyer claimed the psychology of a typical pre-teen, in a period of innocence, makes them particularly susceptible to cyberabuses.

“Pre-teens can be precocious,” he said. “They take things at face value; they’re not suspicious. They want to accept.”

Eddie Suleiman, an East Rutherford parent of three elementary schoolchildren, who works in the IT unit of his company, praised Angermeyer for offering on-the-mark observations.

“As someone who knows the technology well, it was an excellent presentation,” said Suleiman, who asked Angermeyer questions after the program. “But I was very disappointed with the turnout, given the importance of the topic. Many more parents should have been here.”


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