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Erik Burgess, Published October 16 2012

Fargo police host online safety workshop at South High School

FARGO – No windows were broken. No alarms went off. But an intruder was in their home.

The man, around 40 years old, allegedly got access to the 13-year-old Fargo girl via Facebook, and although he was living in Nebraska and had never met her, he posed as the girl’s friend and said he wanted to come meet her.

“Luckily the mom was actually on the profile when the guy approached the girl,” said Officer Paula Ternes, a detective with the Fargo police’s Crimes Against Children unit. “She was 13 and the mom started chatting, and he right away was asking for nude photos.”

Stories like this are more common than you’d think, Ternes told a room of about a dozen people during a conversation on Internet safety at South High School on Tuesday night.

Ternes, who poses as a young teenager online in order to catch Internet predators, discussed how to monitor your children on Facebook, in chat rooms and video games and other online social hangouts to keep them safe from stalkers and predators.

The detective has been investigating online predators for six years, sometimes talking to one suspect for months at a time.

She said when she assumes her role as a juvenile and enters a chat room, predators will start asking personal questions almost immediately.

“It doesn’t take very long for them to start asking sexual questions,” she said, adding that predators often don’t lie about their ages and are very explicit in what they want.

And these situations are happening in Fargo, she said. Her unit has made at least eight arrests here since June 2010, including the Nebraska man mentioned above.

Dan Larson, principal at Valley City Junior High, said he attended the event to better learn how to teach parents at his school how to handle tough online situations.

“The Internet has very few boundaries,” he said. “Most young adults don’t know their boundaries – what they should post, what they shouldn’t post.”

He said in his school a majority of students have cellphones, and those phones are becoming more and more powerful.

Ternes discussed GPS technology in phones, and location-based social websites like Foursquare, which allow a user to post their physical location and share that information with virtually anybody online.

Citing studies, Ternes said 10 percent of stalking victims report being stalked through GPS.

“Technology is just a great way for stalkers to be able to stalk people,” she said.

She said keeping track of what your kids are doing online is important. Making sure their profiles are kept private and that they only accept friend requests from people they actually know is crucial in keeping predators away from them.

“I don’t think it’s ever too early, to be honest with you, to talk to kids,” she said.

For parents who want more tips, she recommended the website www.net

smartz.org.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518