I suppose it isn’t news that there are sexual predators on the Internet. Most of us know that we live in a dangerous world and we do our best to protect our children from the worst of it. I am an engineer and have a natural curiosity about technology. As a result, I’m pretty comfortable, and good at, computer stuff. Our computers at home have a firewall between the world and our little local network, another firewall on each computer, everything is password protected, we have anti-virus and anti-spam programs, and we have a fairly effective parental control program that further limits the ability of our children to roam the dark and dangerous neighborhoods of the Internet. I thought we were doing pretty well… until Saturday.
On Saturday my wife and I attended a seminar and listened to Detective Bobby Grizzard (pronounced like ‘lizard’ except with a ‘g’) from the Massillon Police Department. Detective Grizzard knows more about the dangers of the Internet than your average person. Why? Because for five years, Detective Grizzard, who is six-foot something and who is built more like a linebacker than an office jockey, has been “undercover” as a teenage girl pursuing online predators with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
One of the first things that Detective Grizzard told us, was that before the end of the day, as a demonstration, he would go online and engage a predator in conversation, and, if possible, would get that person to call us. For the next several hours we learned about privacy settings, which I knew pretty well, but also about cell phone apps and devices that could give my children a shortcut around our firewalls, security settings, and parental controls. I learned about smartphone apps with built-in virus hacks that can force your phone’s camera on so that a predator can watch and listen to what is happening in your home. I did not know all of this and, with three teens in our home, I realized that I still have a few things to learn.
At the end of his talk, Det. Grizzard did just as he had promised, but the demonstration was more than I expected. He went online and within seconds had engaged several predators in conversation (posing as 15 year old girl). In less than ten minutes he was “chatting” with ten or more of them and more were added every few minutes. In ten more minutes he had two of these begging for his (her) phone number to call and talk live. One of the women from the seminar volunteered to be the voice of the girl (at work, Det. Grizzard had software that changes his voice) and spoke with the man for a few minutes. I couldn’t hear everything that he said over the speakerphone, but it was obvious from the looks of shock on the faces of some of the women in the room that the man wasn’t talking about the weather.
When Det. Grizzard finally picked up the phone the predator immediately hung up. It didn’t matter. The phone number that he had called passed through the police department before being routed to our seminar. The police department had already captured the name, address and phone number of the man before he had said his first word.
I have always been active in maintaining the security of my children at home and on the Internet. I thought I was doing pretty well, but I found that I have more work to do. I always knew that there were people out there who wanted to victimize my children, but I discovered that there are more of them than I imagined. There is new technology coming out every day. Much of it is good, but there is some really evil stuff out there as well.
I took two things home with me Saturday. One, there is evil in the world that is smarter, sneakier, craftier and more persistent than we give it credit for. Predators are cruising the Internet in search of victims. As parents in the twenty-first century, we must me more vigilant than ever before and we must educate ourselves in order to keep our kids from becoming victims. Two, I thank God every day for people like Detective Grizzard who go to work every day and spend time hunting for, and chatting with the vile, loathsome, scum that prey on children. Because of men and women like Detective Bobby Grizzard all of our children are safer and we can all sleep a little better. Thanks.