For many, the internet is a valuable tool, but for others, it can be used to lure children into sexual acts. Thankfully, there are investigators like Tommy Goodwin with the Lee County Sheriff's Office who poses as a 14-year-old girl online to ensnare online predators before they get to your child.
"At the beginning, they tell you in the classes, it's going to be shocking. Some people are going to look at it and say I can't do this, I don't want to do this. Others are going to say yes, do it. To protect the children. And that's basically it, you have to have the mentality to do that," says Goodwin.
Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals jumped at the chance when the Georgia Bureau of Investigations asked him if he wanted to start an Internet Crimes Against Children program. They made so many cases right away, the GBI named them the Best New Agency in 2010.
"I had daughters. I've got grandkids and I know my responsibility is to take care of the community and that's part of it," says Sheriff Rachals.
"There's something missing, or something has been missing and you just see it. One guy we arrested said he was picked on in school," noted Goodwin.
Goodwin has been catching online predators for three years, but only recently has he been doing it full time. The first month working full time, he made ten charges.
The Sheriff's office advises any child not to give out personal information over the web. They should also refrain from responding to mean, offensive or threatening messages. It's best if they choose a screen name that doesn't identify them as a boy or a girl, and to remember, people online may not be who they say they are.
For parents: know who your children are talking to online. Talk to your children about what personal information is and advise them not to give it to anyone. Ask your child if they use the internet anywhere else like school or the library. Ask your children to show you where they go online. Learn chat room lingo by going to www.cybertipline.com for a list of acronyms like POS=Parent Over Shoulder.
Access more tips on the Parents and Educators sections of www.NetSmartz.org.