Children at risk as predators stalk cyberspace
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Thirty per cent of social-media networking sites are not who they claim to be in their profile.
Among the persons online are cyberspace predators and criminals stalking innocent persons - including children, who are specially targeted.
Last week, one computer expert warned that the photographs posted online can give almost precise details of an individual's location and the places you frequent.
In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Dean McLarty, a consultant in instructional technology, also warned that what people post on social-networking sites could become their worst nightmare.
McLarty said there are two sides to the online story. Information posted may save your life but it could also cost your life.
"Thirty per cent of the accounts of individuals on Facebook and Twitter are not who they say they are, and therein lies the danger," said McLarty, who is one of three persons who discovered that 229 government ministry sites had been hacked.
"Some are not even real persons. They are created to get a certain number of friends and to market products. They are also there to gather information.
"Some for not honourable use. So you don't know who your friends are, really," added McLarty.
He urged Jamaicans to put less personal information and photographs online.
EASY TO TRACK
McLarty noted that cellular phones are implanted with geo-tagging features which gave information on latitude and longitude and this could allow unscrupulous person to create maps of an individual's location.
Less than a month ago, local police were mobilised to search for a Manchester teenager who went missing after leaving her house for classes at a central Jamaica high school.
Information would later emerge that she had gone to Portland to be with a man she met online.
The girl was located by the police in a deep-rural community living with the man and his family.
The man is now facing carnal abuse charges and his family members could also face charges.
Against that background, McLarty is warning Jamaicans never to agree to meet persons they meet online in secret locations.
"Always meet in public spaces, and use the technology to your advantage. Take a picture of the person and post it in the event that anything should happen.
"Go with a friend or friends. Take a picture of the vehicle and text it to a friend. Tell them if you don't hear from me in a certain time, this is where I went or this is the person I am with," he suggested as a safety procedure.
"With children and young people, specifically, parents must play an integral part in monitoring what their children do online.
"Part of the difficulty is that the children are more knowledgeable than the parents, which put both at a disadvantage," said McLarty as he warned that status updates can be dangerous.
"Just take a look at some of the Facebook and Twitter pages and see if we don't chat too much. Make that assessment for yourself. There are persons who put every single activity of their day on that forum and that is unnecessary."
According to McLarty, nearly everyone with a camera phone is posting photographs of family, friends and themselves in cyberspace, many oblivious and ignorant of the dangers.
Last year, several women were extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars when a cyberspace predator hacked into their accounts and demanded cash in exchange for photographs of them in compromising situations.
The case prompted the local police to warn computer users to avoid placing too much personal information on social networks, and never to click on Internet links about which they were uncertain.
They police said computers or networks may become the victim of detrimental attacks.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force has established the Cybercrimes Unit under the Major Investigation Task Force, which has been successful in shutting down some offensive websites.