Do you play games on a smart phone or a tablet, using a gaming system, like a Wii or PlayStation, through Facebook, or via a computer? It is amazing to live in today’s society. We can play games with people through any of the above devices anytime, anywhere, and in any place – all we need is an Internet connection. The other gamers can live down the street, in a neighboring county, somewhere in another state, and even in other countries. Given that, how many of us intimately know or even casually know the people with whom we are playing games?
Here are a few questions to ponder:
- Would you chat with someonewith whom you game?
- Would you text them?
- Would you tell them personal information about yourself?
- Would you share pictures with them?
- Would you give them your telephone number?
- Would you Skype or FaceTime with them?
- Do you know all of the information that your social network platform shares with others?
- Would you send them money?
- Would you meet them in person?
- Would you invite them to your house?
We all have different comfort levels. As we ask ourselves these questions, we must consider what will put our loved ones at risk and potentially allow them to become targets of internet predators. We then need to make a point to help them if they are too trusting or may not know any better. Many of us may discuss stranger danger with our children but we may be a little too lax discussing the dangers that exist online. We need to be cognizant of these dangers and help children, people with disabilities, and those who are aging watch out for them, too!
Through my work at Hickman & Lowder, I had an opportunity to do just that. I helped a client’s young adult child who has a disability. The client’s child met a person from another country through a game on Facebook. Some people do not question why a person with whom they are playing a game online suddenly want to chat with them privately, talk with them via telephone, or meet them in real life. Unfortunately, at that point, they can become a target of online predators.
Our client's child began to chat with the gamer through the online game application on Facebook. They started sharing personal information and then the young adult began to use a friend’s cell phone with an international calling plan to call the gamer. (Please note that people can and will find ways to do things that they want to do, even when we do our best to try to protect them.) Some red flags were exhibited: The young adult broke up with their significant other of several years and kept stating that the out of country gamer would be coming to visit soon. Do you see anything wrong with this? Does the above scenario concern you? It should!
After the client contacted our office out of concern about the “relationship” developing between the young adult and the gamer, as well as the child's behavioral changes, I did some research online with the information provided to our office. I discovered the person that the young adult was talking to was convicted of sexual exploitation and was on the sex offender information registry in the country in which they reside. Luckily, that information was uncovered sooner rather than later. We forwarded the gamer’s online ID and the court conviction information to Facebook. Facebook has a very strict policy prohibiting convicted sex offenders from using their platform. Once we turned that information over to Facebook, the gamer’s profile was deleted. Again, going back to the where there is a will there is a way, the gamer then created other profiles and tried to continue to contact the young adult. We turned those additional profiles over to Facebook, too. We talked with the friend who was letting the young adult use their phone and explained the dangers. Thankfully, in this case, there were enough warning signs and red flags to alert family and friends concerned about the young adult. What would have happened if no one intervened? What would have happened if the gamer used a fictitious name to begin with? Would the gamer’s real name have ever been provided? Would the truth about the gamer’s identity have been discovered in time? Would the result have been the same?
The intent in sharing the story is to help everyone understand that gaming online can be a double-edged sword. Stay safe, understand the potential risks, and help those who may be at risk.
Some resources about staying safe online:
- Online safety brochures, fact sheets, and tip cards from Microsoft
- Stay Safe Online, National Cyber Security Alliance - Blog
- Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center - Article about keeping elders safe online
- 11 Tips for Social Networking Safety - Blog article
- Senior Online Safety - Blog articles about elder safety online
- Six Safety Social Networking Tips for Elders
- OvernightGeek University - I recently attended Jesse Weinberger’s Internet Safety for Parents presentation. She is the owner of OvernightGeek University. Her presentation taught me additional dangers that parents must know about. If your child has access to any device, including, but not limited to, computers, TVs, tablets, smart phones, gaming systems, etc., whether it is their own, yours, their friend’s, someone else’s, …you need to know! She published The BoogeyMan Exists: And He’s In Your Child’s Back Pocket. Jesse’s website is full of information, including, a quick three-minute video lesson on the best parenting practices for keeping your children safe online.
- Online Safety Checklist for Parents
- Keeping Kids Safe Online - Scholastic
Reporting Predators on Facebook:
- Facebook is relying on the public to let them know if there is as sexual predator online so action may be taken. Directions on how to report a convicted sexual predator on Facebook can be found here.
- Posted by Christy Zeyer, OSBA Certified Paralegal