By Marnee Banks
HELENA - Montana children frequently fall victim to online predators - whether it's sexual exploitation or identity theft the cases exist in our backyard.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports more than 16,000 minors from across the U.S. were victims of identity theft last year. Meanwhile, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports one in 25 kids between the ages of 10 and 17 have received an online sexual solicitation.
- Online sexual solicitation from who? From this study, they say it's mostly from peers, not strange adults.
Montana Internet Crimes Against Children Detective Bryan Fischer says these cases exist in Montana and that's why it's so critically important that the federal government update their old online privacy rules.
The FTC will be enforcing new Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) rules as of July 1. These rules haven't been updated since 1998, an age before smartphones, Facebook, and Twitter.
The COPPA rules were established to protect kids under the age of 13 from online predators.
"Dealing with kids that have been exploited, a lot of times parents aren't aware of the things that they've downloaded to a smartphone or an iPhone or an iPad," Fischer explains.
A University of Michigan study shows, 87% of children between the ages of 9 and 13 use the Internet and 29% of kids in that same age group have their own wireless device.
The new rules say any child under the age of 13 will need parental permission before entering personal information online.
"They are going to try and make sure that they can verify parent information," Fischer explained. "There was talk about utilizing a credit card or a verifiable email address."
Fischer says by verifying parental permission it better protects kids from identity theft and sexual predators.
Derek VanLuchene is the founder of Ryan United a nonprofit that helps keep kids safe from predators. He says while updating the COPPA rules is important, kids will always find a way around these safeguards.
For example, children under the age of 13 are prohibited from Facebook, but a Consumer Reports study shows that 5.6 million kids under 13 have an account.
"So it's just important for parents to know what their children are doing online, and where they are going on the computer and what they are looking at," VanLuchene says.
VanLuchene says families can also purchase parental monitoring software if they want extra protection.
With this software, if a child enters key words or visits specific websites the software will take a screen shot and send an email or text notification to the parents.
- Parental software can also block other sites, like those who show porn, drugs, gangs, hate speech, etc. K9 Web Protection is a decent one, which we've tested, and it's free.
But he says educating kids and setting boundaries is still the most important thing.
"It's not about looking over your child's shoulder at every minute, it's about getting involved in their life and getting involved in what they are doing online," VanLuchene says.
- If they are under 13, why get them a cellphone or wireless device in the first place?
It's all part of embracing the wonders of new technology and making sure kids use it as a tool and don't become a victim.