Hanging with a predator! - Paedophiles, abductors, thieves and social deviants target children online
Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison is warning that Jamaican children are putting themselves at risk by travelling to meet up with strangers who they know only from social media.
The trend of hooking up with people you meet online, referred to as 'catfish' by some youngsters, is a growing one with them using Facebook, WhatsApp groups and other social-media platforms to develop friendships and then link up with their new acquaintances in person.
But Gordon Harrison says this is extremely risky and a concern for those tasked with protecting the nation's children.
"Having an online life and personality is something that is very real to our teenagers, and we see where they use this sometimes as a means of making new friends and entering into relationships; sometimes intimate ones," said Gordon Harrison.
"Now we can't over- emphasise how risky a practice and how dangerous this is because you do not know really who you are speaking to when that persons gets into your world by way of an online kind of acquaintance.
"There is no face, there is no name that you can prove that is actually the person you are speaking to. So somebody who could be a 40-year-old predator could be saying, 'yes I go to this high school and I am 14 years old," noted Harrison.
The concern is similar for Registrar of the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) Greig Smith, who told The Sunday Gleaner of an incident where two 14-year-old girls left Kingston and travelled to Westmoreland to meet up with someone they met on Facebook.
"What happened is that one of those teenage girls met the young man on the Internet and encouraged her classmate to accompany her to Westmoreland," said Smith.
"They went all the way to Savanna-la-Mar and they were taken to a house and sexually molested that night, and then they were just dropped back into the town of Savanna-la-Mar to be placed on a bus back to Kingston," added Smith.
Deputy Superintendent of Police with the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Webster Francis said the cops have received several reports of children meeting people online and are later abused by them.
"We do have many cases where they meet online and develop a relationship and sexual abuse takes place; which is sexual intercourse with a person under 16. There are a lot of those," said Francis.
According to a 2015 Child Internet Safety survey by Pew Research Centre, 25 per cent of children pretend they are older than they really are in order to acquire an online account.
Police inspector Stacey-Ann Powell, who is stationed at the Communications, Forensic and Cybercrime Division at the Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch, believes children who lie about their age and upload fake photos could be unwittingly setting themselves up to be sexually abused.
"What you find sometimes is that a 16-year-old will post a picture that depicts them looking over 18 and instead of writing that they are 16 they will write that they are 18," said Powell.
"You also have children who cut and paste to depict themselves as a sexy females, and when they end up going to meet those persons who recognise it is a child, it is now left to the adult as to whether or not they want to exploit the situation or if they have some self-respect and leave them alone."
State Minister for Education, Youth and Information Floyd Green noted that there are some people online whose sole purpose is to prey on the vulnerable, whether it be children or otherwise.
"It is an area of concern and an area that I think the police will have to continue working on in terms of the protection of our children," said Green.
"We will encourage people that if they come across any of these predators online or suspected predators that they make the report to the OCR and to the police, so that they can be investigated."
Some warning signs of a 'catfish'
With more than 40 million men and women online looking for love, there are bound to be some scam artists out there. A 'catfish' is a person who creates a false online identity in the hopes of luring people into romantic relationships.
Social-media experts have provided some early warning signs that your social-media love interest may be a catfish.
The modelling profession
If anyone says they are a model, watch out. It means that they are recognised as a very attractive person. If the person you are talking to says they are a model, but also has another amazing career, he or she may be too good to be true.
If a person's profile has fewer than 100 friends, and more specifically, if there are photos of the person with other people but the other people aren't tagged, be cautious. These may be pictures taken off an unsuspecting person's profile.
If a person can't immediately send you pictures of themselves in this day and age, then you should proceed with caution.
If a person cannot get to a webcam after repeated requests and attempts, then this is an early potential warning sign that they are trying to avoid you seeing who they really are.