March 25, 2002
Teen gets e-mail from suspected sexual predator
by Jeanette Knutson
A Mother's Viewpoint
Mrs. X is a Woodinville-area mother. Her daughter Little X is a high school senior. Mrs. X is reasonably savvy about the Internet. She shares an e-mail account with her daughter and both seem to get a fair amount of use out of the account. Mrs. X participates in chat rooms; Little X corresponds with her friends.
Since March 5, Little X has received three e-mails from someone her mother describes as a sexual predator.
Mrs. X is understandably upset. She called the police. She called the Weekly. She e-mailed her Internet provider Yahoo!. She doesn't know what else to do.
Particularly unsettling is not the fact that this man, self-described as 38 years old; 5 feet, 5 inches tall; 120 pounds, writes, as Mrs. X calls it, in a medieval style - complete with "thee's" and "thou's" and "ye's," "m'lady's," "my maiden."
What is unsettling, however, is that the man knows the girl's nickname, a name her mother says very, very few people know. How did he get it? How does he know her?
Little X does have her graduation picture along with her profile posted on her personal Web page, says mom. So Stephen, the name that actually appeared on the three e-mails, does know how she looks. He's said as much. But how did he get her name?
Mom also says Little X responded to the first e-mail, mainly because the sender had known her nickname. She thought it was a friend.
"(When I heard she had responded,) I was really ticked. When you raise kids, you teach them to look both ways, not to talk to strangers," said Mrs. X. "You just hope they listen. You just hope when they're out of your sight, they're remembering what you taught them.
"And now it's the Internet. (Little X) is really bright. I think she's aware of what's what. But these porn people are getting trickier. They prey on lonely, ostracized women, ones with low self-esteem. They say, 'Oh, I'll listen. Oh, I know what you mean,' said Mrs. X.
"To tell you the truth," she said, "I responded to one of the e-mails myself. I told him in thee's and thou's that she is my daughter and she does not want to talk to him. Of course, he doesn't want to talk with a smart, upset, protective adult. He wants to talk to na•ve kids.
"It needs to be stopped. His messages were just slime. They just scream predator. How frustrating. My daughter can't be the only one he's writing to," said Mrs. X.
A Daughter's Viewpoint
Getting three unwanted e-mails "makes me feel a little unsteady about the Internet," said Little X.
"The thing is," she said, "in the 'Subject' title he used my nickname. When I saw that, I figured it was a close family member. Maybe it was from my uncle. Maybe it was from a close friend, some sort of a joke. Nowhere on the Internet is my real name, or my nickname."
Though Little X does have a screen name she uses.
"I sent a letter back asking how he got my name, how he got my address. I figured it was just a friend playing a joke and I wanted to find out who it was. I answered out of curiosity."
The second e-mail came the day after Little X responded to the first one.
"He was a Dungeon and Dragons kind of guy. He said, 'How are ye doing? Hail (Little X)!' He said he was married. He wanted to meet me .... He wasn't discreet about anything. No stranger would have been so bold. I figured it was someone I knew.
When asked how she knew how to handle unwanted e-mail, Little X replied, "Mostly it's common sense. When it gets to the point of annoying you, you ignore it or delete it. It's like riding on a public bus. Someone's talking to you. At first it's fine, but you know when to get up and move ... when they start moving closer to you, when they start touching you. It's the same thing on the Internet."
Little X's advice to others is "Watch out how much information you give out about yourself - and about others."
What Yahoo! Mail Abuse Had to Say
The folks at Yahoo! thanked Mrs. X for reporting the incident, saying they "are taking the necessary steps to resolve the situation."
The e-mail the Internet provider sent her said "Once our investigation is complete, appropriate action, in accordance with our (Terms of Service), will be taken against the offending account immediately.
"Since the current volume of mail prohibits a personal reply to all reports, unless additional information is required, this may be the only response you will receive."
The provider requested that in order "to properly investigate and take appropriate action," the complete e-mail - including the original subject line, the complete headers and the complete body of the offending message - be e-mailed to the company's abuse Web site.
What King County Sheriff's Office Says
"Have this person call 911," said King County Sheriff's Sgt. Greg Dymerski, media relations officer for the department, "and have an officer come out to the house to make a report. Either a local detective unit or our computer and fraud unit will look into it.
"That's the bad thing about the Internet. There are a lot of good things about it, but it certainly is rife for abuse."
Sgt. Dymerski also said it was not a good idea to put one's photo on the Internet. Someone could attach the head to a naked body and (post it worldwide).
Sgt. Ken Wardstrom, chief of police services for the city of Woodinville, said, "If this person is having a problem with receiving unsolicited (e-mail), then surely she should call 911. If he is enticing her to go somewhere, it could be a stalking incident.
"I think it is a good idea to cancel the Web site. Get out of it and get a new one.
"When a teenager puts a picture on a Web site, and maybe she looks older than she really is, there is a potential for trouble," said Sgt. Wardstrom.
What the Experts Say
There are some risks for young people who use online services. Just as parents teach their children rules about dealing with strangers outside the home, just as they help them to choose books at the library, and talk to them about what stores they are allowed to visit, rules for communicating online must also be established.
Here are a few general online tips:
¥ Never give out personal information (including name, address, telephone number, age, race, family income, school name or location) or use a credit card without a parent's permission.
¥ Never respond to messages that make you feel confused or uncomfortable. Ignore the sender, end the communication and tell a parent or trusted adult right away.
¥ Never share your password, even with friends.
¥ Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone you have met online. Exceptions to this rule can be made, but not unless you discuss the meeting with your parents and they go with you to the meeting, which should be held in a public place.
¥ Never use bad language or send mean messages online.
It is a good idea to establish general rules for home computer use, such as the amount of time that can be spent daily online, what is and what is not appropriate for youngsters, what sites they can visit, what sites they can't. Post the rules near the computer as a reminder.
Parents should also pay attention to games older children download or copy. Some are violent or contain sexual content.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children suggests making computer use a family activity. They suggest families consider putting the computer in a family room rather than in a child's bedroom. Experts also suggest that Web cams on computers in a youngster's room can lead to trouble. Apparently pornographers coax young people into taking their clothes off in front of these cameras. Parents may consider using blocking and filtering software to reduce some of the risks of finding inappropriate material online. The filters block obscene or pornographic material, but this technology is not foolproof and pornographers are becoming more and more cleaver about using words with double meanings that may appear harmless to the scanners. Parents cannot rely solely on this software. They, themselves, must be diligent, must keep up with the latest technology.
One thing's for certain: Their children will.