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Investigators Tip-Off Parents

Parents Get Schooled on Web

Parents filed into the School’s Administration Building Wednesday, Oct. 11, to learn the meanings of "LOL" and "MySpace."

This month’s Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP) meeting, titled "You’re in My Space," attracted a number of parents to the Ashburn building.

"This must be a record," Maura Walsh-Copeland, LEAP president, said.

Kelly Blair, a mother of four, attended the meeting to learn more about what her 15-, 17-, 20- and 22-year-old sons are doing online.

"I’m really scared for my 15-year-old," she said.

Walsh-Copeland invited Sheriff’s Office investigators Kelly Poland and Shannon Coderre, of the Criminal Investigations Unit, to shed some light on the dangers of the Internet and educate parents on chat-room slang.

"It’s really a whole other language," Coderre said.

At the beginning of the meeting, Poland and Coderre passed out a short quiz to parents. They were asked to fill in the blanks next to acronyms, like LOL (laugh out loud), BRB (be right back) and POS (parents over shoulder).

A group of moms turned around in their chairs, whispered to their neighbors and scratched their heads. They turned to Blair for answers.

"M-U-S-M? I have no idea what that one means," she said. "L-M-I-R-L. That’s the scary one, ‘let’s meet in real life.’"

Blair said she tries to stay informed by reading whatever she can get her hands on and watching specials on Internet safety.

"I learned that one on an episode of Law and Order," she said.

In order to protect their children, Poland suggested parents create a set of rules and post them near the computer. Parents should make a list of approved sites their children can visit, who they can talk to and where they can use the Internet. Some tips include keeping the computer in a common room, setting a time limit and staying informed by reading the news and checking out popular sites your children might be using.

AT WORK, the investigators pose as 13- and 14-year-old girls on Internet chat rooms and they said their age immediately attracts online predators.

Children are natural victims, Coderre said, because they’re naturally curious, easily led by adults and have a need to defy their parents.

With more than 30 million children surfing the Web, 25 percent of children are exposed to unwanted, sexually explicit pictures, Poland said. Only 25 percent of those victims told parents and 10 percent reported the incident to authorities.

Seventy percent of these incidents occurred at home, 22 percent occurred at a friend’s house, 4 percent occurred at schools and 3 percent occurred at libraries.

"Every year we add more and more investigators to the crimes against kids unit," Coderre said.

DURING THE SCHOOL day, Broad Run High School Vice Principal Doug Anderson monitors students’ Internet activity. Popular Web sites, like MySpace.com, a free, social networking service that allows users to post personal information and photos on the Internet, are blocked on the school’s campus.

The vice principal surfs the Web in order to monitor students activity as well as stay informed on "code words" for drugs, like cocaine and ecstasy.

Phrases like "I have an ice cream habit," "I have to help Adam" and "I love cupcakes" refer to having a drug habit, taking ecstasy and using acid. Anderson advised parents to watch out for phrases like this on their children’s "MySpace" accounts.

Anderson also monitors Facebook, another social networking Web site, Friendster, Xanga and YouTube.

"Rumors spread like wild fire on the Internet," Anderson said. "Kids have shown up at school either scared or upset and looking to do something about it."

It is important for parents to remind children once they post information and photos online, anyone can see it, including parents, teachers and employers, Anderson said.