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Montgomery County officer warns parents of dangers kids face online

Sgt. Ken Sanger said it took him only about two minutes on the online video chat platform Omegle to find a man masturbating. And when he searched the keyword “piano,” Sanger found a video of a naked man playing the piano.

“I wasn’t even looking for it,” Sanger told an audience at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Frederick on Sunday evening during a presentation on internet safety. “I wasn’t looking for it, but it came up that easily.”

Sanger, the commander for the Montgomery County Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children task force, addressed dozens of parents Sunday about the risks their children can face while using the internet, and especially mobile devices.

ICAC is a national network of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies that investigates crimes involving exploitation and abuse of children online. Many of its cases target producers and distributors of child pornography, as well as adults seeking to meet and sexually abuse and assault minors.

The Frederick Police Department and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office also have ICAC task forces working within their agencies to investigate internet crimes involving local residents. 

In recent years, Maryland State Police’s ICAC team has made several arrests of Frederick County men distributing child pornography and soliciting minors for sex.

Outreach to parents and teenagers about the risks associated with internet use is also part of ICAC’s mission. In his presentation Sunday, Sanger briefed parents on trends in social media, mobile device and internet use among teenagers and the associated risks. He also gave parents tips on keeping their kids safe by monitoring their internet use.

“Parents really need to be aware of what their kids are doing on mobile devices,” Sanger said. “There’s more computing power in [a smart phone] than was in our first space shuttles. And we let our kids take them into their bedrooms and shut the door.”

Sanger warned that many of the cases his task force handles involve anonymous adults soliciting naked photos from kids on applications including Kik, Omegle and Snapchat. In some cases, Sanger said, teens will willingly agree to meet up with adults.

In other cases, teenagers willingly post pictures and videos of themselves without realizing they can end up being exploited.

“The kids think it’s fun. Online friends and likes are currency for them, and they’ll do things to get more money in their pockets,” Sanger said. “Those images can end up in the child porn trade.”

More than two dozen local adults watched and participated in Sanger’s presentation Sunday. Many raised their hands when asked if their kids were already using cell phones.

“We know we live in an application economy and things are changing rapidly,” said John Magee, bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Brunswick Ward. “Technology has been a blessing, but we know there are risks of abuse also.”

Sanger recommended parents be proactive about controlling their children’s internet and mobile device use. Parents can check their kids’ phones daily and monitor their social media presence from their own accounts. Parents can also control the passwords their children need to download new applications onto their phones.

“You need to know their friends’ lists,” Sanger said. “Who is following them? Who are they contacting?”

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