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Special agent talks to junior high students about cyber safety

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MASSENA — A special agent who handles electronic crimes such as child exploitation had some words of advice Tuesday for seventh-grade students at J.W. Leary Junior High School: It’s a scary cyberworld out there, so be careful.

Timothy Losito, a computer forensics agent with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Massena, compared surfing the Internet to riding in a vehicle — you need to be wearing a safety belt to avoid any danger.

As the students navigate the Internet, Mr. Losito said, they might come across various types of risky behavior that include mean or rude text messages, inappropriate photos or adult sites.

“If you visit a website that makes you uncomfortable, remember, if you think your parents would not want you to do it, you probably shouldn’t do it,” Mr. Losito said.

Another danger facing youngsters are online predators. The special agent showed the students pictures of four people and asked them who they thought was an online predator. Most students said number three, a middle-aged white man.

“Everybody always says number three because he’s an old, creepy-looking dude,” Mr. Losito said. But in most cases, he said, investigators find that they’re mainly dealing with people in their 20s.

“Don’t be blinded by what your perception is,” he suggested. “You have no idea who you’re talking to sometimes.”

Part of an online predator’s repertoire is “grooming” the children he or she is talking to, Mr. Losito said. They might flatter the child, send gifts, discuss adult subjects, ask the child to keep secrets, turn the child against his or her family and friends, share or ask for revealing images and blackmail the child. The predator also is likely to compliment the child over and over again to gain his or her trust, he said.

He told the students to report anyone who sends them adult images or talks to them about adult subject matter.

Should a child get caught up with a predator, he said, the child needs to remember that it wasn’t their fault.

“You don’t need to feel ashamed,” he said.

Mr. Losito suggested the child not engage the predator and block him or her. He also told them not to meet the person offline. The child should let an adult, such as a parent, older sibling or teacher know about the situation.

He said that, to minimize their chances of encountering an online predator, the students should keep personal information to a minimum on the Internet. He suggested using different passwords for each account, using privacy settings and limiting access to user location. He also recommended being wary of who is “friended” on social media sites.

He also advised not posting inappropriate material on the Internet: “Don’t take images of yourself that you wouldn’t want everybody to see. Don’t forward anyone else’s image. Don’t ask or pressure anyone to share an image.”

Mr. Losito also addressed cyberbullying, telling the students not to respond to any instances of it and to block the bully and save evidence.

“Document what you see and when,” he said. “Don’t feed the cyberbullies. Don’t give them anything to work with.”

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