Internet Social Networking Sites - Dangers, Do's and Dont's

by Dr. Frank Kardasz, Updated July 13, 2007

Recent disturbing incidents involving Internet crimes against children have been prominent in the media. In some
incidents, the crimes have involved suspects and victims who met each other via Internet social networking sites.
Social networking sites are places on the Internet where people can meet one another, communicate and interact.

Social networking and communication are normal parts of the human experience. The Internet has become an
important venue for people to network, communicate and interact. Young people are naturally curious about
themselves, about others, and about the world. The sites permit them to reach out to others from around the
globe, sometimes with tragic results.

Many social networking sites exist. Some of them are listed below:

Craigslist            Dittytalk           Facebook                Friendsfusion
Friendster           Hi5                   Intellectconnect      Interracialsingles
Livejournal          Myspace         Myyearbook             Prisonpenpals
Runescape        Secondlife      Stickam                    Studybreakers
Tagged                Xanga             Zogo

Why are the sites popular?

Most of the social networking sites are free and supported by advertisers who hope users will buy products or
services advertised on the sites. Young people who are curious and seeking relationships and new experiences
visit the sites to find others.

How do the sites work?

Any computer with Internet access can be used to permit someone to join a site. Some sites require only that the
registrant provide an email address and often there is no verification process to check the truthfulness of any of
the information that a registrant provides. Most sites require that users abide by conditions and terms of use
meant to thwart improper conduct but enforcement is often lax. Once a registrant becomes a member he or she
can post personal information, images or other information depending upon the features available at the site.
Unless a user chooses privacy options all the information posted may be visible to all other users of a site.

What are the dangers?

Those who misuse the sites may do so in many ways including:

- Luring / enticement – Internet sexual predators and know sex offenders have used social networking sites to
locate and lure victims.
- Identity theft – Criminals steal the identities of those who post personal information.
- Cyberbullying / harassment – Agitators post derogatory, hurtful or threatening information about others.
- Stalking – Stalkers can use personal information posted to the sites to locate and pursue victims.
- Fraud schemes – Criminals who wish to defraud others of money or property can  locate  victims, gain their trust
and take advantage of that trust for criminal purposes.
- Inappropriate sexual content – Some users post sexually explicit information that is inappropriate for young
computer users.

Prevention

How can children, teens and adults protect themselves from those who misuse social networking sites?

Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t -

- post personal images
- post your true full name
- post your home or cellular phone number
- post your true age or date of birth
- post your true home or business address
- post your school name or the grad that you are in
- post your calendar of upcoming events or information about your future activities

Do -

- discuss Internet risks with your child
- enter into a safe-computing contract with your child
- remember that every day is Halloween on the Internet. People on the Internet are not always as they first appear
- enable computer Internet filtering features if they are available from your Internet  service
- consider installing monitoring software or keystroke capture devices on your family computer that will help
monitor your child's Internet activity
- know each of your child's passwords, screen names and all account information
- put the computer in a family area of the household and do not permit private usage
- report all inappropriate non-criminal behavior to the site through their reporting procedures
- report criminal behavior to the appropriate law enforcement agency including the NCMEC Cybertip line or the
Internet Fraud Complaint Center
- contact your legislators and request stronger laws against Internet crime
- contact the corporations who place advertisements on the sites and let them know that their advertising is
helping to support inappropriate Internet behavior. Also, let the corporations
know that you intend to boycott or discontinue using their product or services because of the behavior they are  
supporting.
- visit the NCMEC Netsmartz "Blog Beware" Workshop at http://www.netsmartz. org/news/blogbeware.htm for more
information.

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Making Social Networking Sites Law Enforcement Friendly

By Dr. Frank Kardasz, September 23, 2006

Social networking sites are very popular among people who wish to meet and communicate with others. They are
also the venues for some unlawful activity. The following suggestions would make social networking sites a little
safer for users and more law-enforcement friendly.

1. On every social networking site web page, display a link to information that describes to users how they can
report misconduct.

2. Require that all new users enter verifiable credit card information when first subscribing.

3. Require that all subscribers pay a nominal fee.

4. For new users of social networking sites, make the default settings for viewing and sharing all
account information ‘private’. This means that new accounts would be automatically set to exclude others and to
not share information. The new subscriber would have to actively choose to share account information by
checking the appropriate boxes in the account settings section.

5. For new account subscribers, remove the requirement that users complete the section regarding the month
and day of birth. Even though there is no requirement that users enter their true date of birth, some users do enter
their true date of birth, thus giving identity thieves additional information.

6. Include an admonition on profile pages advising users that revealing personal information could lead to identity
theft or victimization by offenders who are intent upon harassment, stalking, fraud or identity theft.

7. On every web page, display a link to the National Missing and Exploited Children's Cybertipline.
Their link is www.cybertipline.com

8. On every web page, display a link to the national sex offender registry.

9. On every web page, display a link to the Internet Crime Complaint Center for incidents of theft or fraud. Their link
is www.ic3.gov

10. Proprietors of social networking sites can install filtering software on servers to flag or
eliminate obscene words.

11. Include a provision in the terms of use that notifies users that they have no expectation of  privacy regarding the
content that they post and that law enforcement may obtain all of their postings through the use of a subpoena
only - without a search  warrant.

12. Remove the browse and search functions that permit users to locate one another.

13. Preserve changes to user’s pages and the Internet protocol address associated with the change for 90 days.

14. Retain profile information for deleted accounts for 90 days.

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National Center for Missing and Exploited Children - Dialogue on Social Networking Web Sites

Washington D.C., June 22, 2006

Statement of Dr. Frank Kardasz, Project Director - Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force

BACKGROUND

Thank you for inviting me today. I have spent the last six of my 27 years in law enforcement doing some of the
most important police work possible. It is the work of protecting children and teens from Internet sexual predators
and traffickers of child pornography.

This type of police work is still in its relative infancy. Some cops are still computer novices. Some of us think that a
social networking site is the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge. So we cops are working to catch up. Getting our
law enforcement arms around the growing problem of Internet crime is a momentous task. By way of analogy,
some days I feel like we are trying to restrain King Kong with a tiny rubber band. But thanks to the DOJ Internet
Crimes Against Children Task Force Program, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we
continue to improve.

SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES

With regards to social networking sites, they provide users with a lawful service. They provide an attractive method
of communication. Owners of the sites sometimes profit from advertisers who know that the popularity of the sites
provide important venues for attracting people to their products. There is nothing inherently evil about either of
those motives. The challenge comes from trying to filter out the criminals who use the services with evil intent.

THE LAW ENFORCEMENT ENVIRONMENT

Law enforcement cannot do as much in this area as it would like to. Law enforcement resources are often
absorbed by those crimes for which there is a public outcry. Overall, there is less of a public outcry for the
enforcement of Internet crimes against children than there is for many other crimes. In recent years Federal
resources are drawn to terrorism, drug enforcement and border control, all of which have great national
importance. Local resources are drawn to homicides, gangs, drugs, burglaries, and other offenses of great local
importance. Consequently, we who fight Internet crime are often understaffed. That’s also partly because children
are often marginalized by society.  They have no voice. Very young children, those whose tortured images we see
when we investigate child pornography incidents, cannot call 911. They cannot call the news media, they cannot
write to an elected official. They cannot vote.

Sometimes the crimes are so devastatingly surreal that we cannot wrap our logical minds around the possibility
that anyone would do such things to a child. Some of the most hardened and cynical cops I know cannot work
Internet crimes against children because they cannot endure the attendant emotional hardship that comes with
witnessing the inhumane suffering of innocent children.

So I am pleased to see all of you here today and see that we are working on these tough issues.

CASE STUDIES

Now I would like to show two case studies from the Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force involving
social networking sites.

The first case involves a man who called himself “Danny” on his web page. We learned about Danny because an
alert parent was monitoring her childs Internet use and personally knew of Danny because he lived in the same
neighborhood as the woman. She also knew that he is a registered sex offender. We learned that Danny (not his
real name) was also registered sex offender in Arizona. There is no mention of his sex offender status on his web
page and he advertises himself as a lover of poetry who is looking for a girlfriend. Although his original web page
is no longer available, Danny is not subject to any computer restrictions and is free to continue advertising himself
if he so chooses.

The second case involves a man who advertised himself on his web page as “International man of adventure.” A
parent in Louisiana installed monitoring software on her daughters computer and found that the minor was
communicating with a man from Arizona. The incident was reported to the Louisiana ICAC Task Force, the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Arizona ICAC Task Force. Detectives from my Arizona
Task Force learned the mans true identity and discovered that he was wanted on a felony sexual assault warrant
in Arizona. He is now in custody awaiting trial for the sex assault charge.

OFFENDERS

Unlike spectacular and riveting crimes and events involving crashes, explosions, shootings and widespread
newsworthy bloodletting, the evil crimes against children are committed in dark and private places by offenders
who sometimes psychologically groom and control their victims into silence. In cases involving predators who use
social networking sites, the psychological grooming and control process begins with the offenders carefully
constructed web page. They may pose as friendly adults, or as other children of the same age, or they may just
browse and search and stalk the millions of web pages until they find just the right target and gather just enough
information to permit them to locate and capture a victim.

Once we learn of the offense, law enforcement investigators must scramble to issue subpoenas and hope that
the Internet service provider retained the data so we can find the offender.

VICTIMS

I’m convinced that the quiet crimes committed when an adult sexual predator meets a curious unsupervised
teenager to engage in sex acts are often unreported. Often the minor returns home without his or her parents ever
finding out. We learned of one such case in Arizona when an undercover officer from my task force was posing as
a child and subsequently arrested a predator. We learned that the offender had met and victimized two girls to
whom he had also given sexually transmitted diseases. In their shame, the girls had never notified anyone of the
crimes. The distraught parents only learned of the offenses when my detectives informed them of the suspect’s
confessions.

SCOPE OF THE PROBLEM

Some will say, it’s not that big a problem; the crime statistics are not large. And that will seem to be true because
these crimes are underreported. Defenders of free speech and privacy will demand numbers and statistics to
justify change. How many incidents?  How many sexual assaults? How many children? How many deaths? But
ask yourselves; what is an acceptable number of children lost to Internet sexual predators and child pornography
traffickers? For me, the answer is none.

I hope we will find some common ground that allows continued social networking while controlling the criminals
who abuse the privilege.

I trust that we will not mentally disassociate ourselves from the victims for the sake of financial gain or a
misguided sense of freedom of expression or protection of privacy. I know that the proprietors of social networking
sites are responsible individuals who share our respect for the rights of children to grow up happy and innocent.

My Massachusetts ICAC Task Force colleague, Sgt. Steve DelNegro, will talk some more in a few minutes about
the other kinds of cases we are seeing and provide some recommendations for your consideration.

I will be happy to take questions later.
Thank you

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Requiring credit cards for social networking site subscriptions

by Dr. Frank Kardasz, August 14, 2006

Should social networking sites like Myspace, Xanga, Friendster, Facebook, Hi5, FacetheJury and others require
applicants to subscribe by entering information from a credit card?

The proprietors of social networking sites have difficulty preventing minors from improperly joining the sites. Many
young people have been victimized by predators who roam the sites. Much of the responsibility falls upon parents
who fail to monitor their childrens Intenet activity but increasingly, the industry is being called upon to place better
controls on the use of social networking sites.

The idea of requiring credit card information from applicant/subscribers to social networking sites is controversial
yet promising.

Credit cards have been suggested as a method of age-verification for subscribers to the sites. Critics argue that
credit cards are not a foolproof method of age verification. While I agree that credit cards are not the best method
of age verification I believe that requiring prospective subscribers to social networking sites to enter credit card
information would be helpful in three other important ways:

1. As a deterrent to young people who often subscribe without the knowledge of their parents.
2. As a deterrent to criminals who might be less likely to offend knowing that their identity might
be traced through the credit card information they entered.
3. As an investigative lead for law enforcement to follow-up in order to trace back to a criminal   
when unlawful activity occurs.

Although the use of credit cards may not be a proof-positive means of age verification it would likely be a deterrent
to youths who would otherwise sneak onto a site and join without their parents knowledge.  If the sites require the
entry of a credit card number to subscribe, the child or teen has one extra hurdle to jump before joining a site
without parental consent, and a parent might notice the charge on his or her credit card statement and follow-up
by examining the childs Internet activity.

Criminals who intend to use the sites for unlawful purposes might be slowed if they were required to enter a credit
card number knowing that the number might be traced later by law enforcement officials. Yes, some criminals will
use stolen credit card numbers, but others will not.

Credit card information would give law enforcement an additional lead to trace through subpoena and search
warrant in order to identify persons who facilitate or commit crimes through social networking sites.

Requiring a credit card to subscribe to a social networking site would not be perfect nor foolproof but I believe it
would be better than the present free-for-all practices.

Unrelated to the present issue involving social networking sites, a couple years ago, in the disturbing world of
Internet child pornography, we saw a slowing in reports of child pornography from one major Internet service
provider when it began to require that subscribers pay a small annual fee for its "groups" service.  It may be that
users simply moved to the other Internet free "groups" services to share and traffic child pornography, but it is also
possible that the chance of being traced drove some of the child pornography traffickers away from the ISP that
began charging a fee. If social networking sites were to require users to enter a credit card, perhaps a similar
"self-policing" situation would occur.

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Dr. Kardasz:
I was honored to be asked to testify before a Congressional Subcommittee about Internet crimes
against children. My testimony follows.

April 6, 2006

Testimony of Dr. Frank Kardasz -Sergeant / Project Director of the Arizona Internet Crimes Against Children Task
Force for the United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on
Oversight and Investigations

Sexual Exploitation of Children over the Internet:
What Parents, Kids and Congress need to Know about Child Predators

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee, thank you for permitting me to speak today. Arizona
joined the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program in 2000. We work cooperatively with our
law enforcement colleagues from the FBI, ICE, Postal Inspection Service and the Secret Service. Although the
names of our agencies differ, we all share the common goal of trying to keep children safe from Internet sexual
predators and child pornographers.

The AZ ICAC Task Force has recorded over 2,000 investigations, with over 200 arrests. Although Arizona has the
toughest laws in the nation against child pornography, this has not stopped the trafficking of unlawful images, and
like all of our colleagues nationwide, we have many more solvable case files at the ready than we have personnel
and resources to bring in the offenders. Sadly, while these cases await investigation, children and teens continue
to suffer at the hands of sex offenders.

I have had the opportunity to speak with many citizen groups about Internet crime, and at the end of each
presentation there is often some senior individual in the group who raises a hand and asks: "Why don't they just
switch that whole dang Internet thing off!"...as if we have a control panel somewhere with a dial that we can turn
and it will regulate Internet misconduct.

Legislation is the closest thing we have to an Internet control dial. Although opponents of controls argue that
regulations are costly, imperfect and violations of constitutional freedoms, I sometimes wonder what the framers
of the Constitution would have thought if they had known what we now know about computers and the Internet.
Would they have permitted the Internet crimes against children that we are witnessing today?

I would like to talk about two things today: the threat from those predators who use social networking sites, and
the legal help we need regarding data retention by Internet service providers. The luring of minors for sexual
exploitation remains a continuing threat to our youth.

Beyond the chat rooms that predators have always frequented, social networking sites are now wildly popular.
There are dozens of such free sites, including MySpace, Xanga, Friendster, Facebook, and others. Curious young
people visit the sites every day and post images and personal information about themselves. They can browse
and search for others according to age, sexual preference, zip code or school name. They can communicate with
one another and then arrange to meet in person. And as you might imagine, the sites are also popular among
sexual predators.

We received a phone call a few months ago from an Arizona woman who said that her young daughter, while
using a social networking site, was contacted by a man from their neighborhood who was know to her as a
registered sex offender. We found the mans web page where he described himself as a kindly lover of poetry,
plants and flowers who was seeking female friendship for dating. Fourteen other young people were listed on his
profile as friends with whom he had networked through the site. There was no mention on his profile that he is a
high-risk registered sex offender in Arizona. Since that time the mans original web page is no longer available at
the site, but there is nothing stopping him from re-subscribing to the same site or one of the many other sites
under another assumed name.

The use of the sites by sexual predators remains a serious threat to the safety of our children. The problem will
likely get worse before it gets better as kids flock to the sites and more communities, schools, libraries and
businesses provide unrestricted Internet access through wireless access points that sometimes leave law
enforcement investigations at a dead end. My written attachments contain some suggestions for improving the
social networking site environment, but in the interest of saving time I do not wish to review them all now.

I would like to talk about an item of importance to my investigative colleagues nationwide. Last week I sent a
survey to Internet crimes against children (ICAC) investigators at all of our nationwide affiliates throughout the
United States.

The survey asked one question: What law could be created or revised to best assist the investigators who work
cases involving Internet crimes against children?

The most frequent response involved data storage by Internet service providers and the retrieval of data from
Internet service providers. What our people are telling us is that investigators need ISP's to retain subscriber and
content information so that when legal process in the form of a subpoena or search warrant are served, there is
data remaining with the ISP that will help the investigator find the offender.

Most ISP organizations are operated by conscientious and professional business people who are horrified by
Internet crimes against children. Some ISP's have graciously extended themselves to help investigators. Some
reluctant ISP's will only assist to the extent that the law mandates them to assist.

Mandating that ISP’s retain data is not a privacy violation. Law enforcement only needs the data preserved but not
disclosed to us, except in response to legal process. Internet industry professionals may cite the financial burden
of data storage, but consider the potential human cost of not retaining data. For example, when law enforcement
is seeking a predator identifiable only by the information associated with his screen name, but the responsible
ISP did not preserve the information, the investigation ends while the predator roams free. Based on the requests
of my colleagues

I respectfully ask for two improvements to the law:

1. That Internet service providers be mandated to retain information about subscribers for at
least one year, with penalties for non-compliance.
2. That Internet service providers be mandated to respond to subpoenas involving crimes
against children investigations within one week of receiving a subpoena, and more quickly
under exigent circumstances where a child is missing.

I will conclude by saying that investigators need your help in order to navigate those dark alleys of the Internet
where they work diligently to help protect children. I recognize that turning the Internet control dial comes with a
cost, but failing to turn the dial carries a greater human cost to our young people.

Thank you again.
Victim Impact Statement
az icac
Internet Crimes Against Children