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FBI to parents: Internet pedophiles a serious threat

children and computers

CyberTipline launched to protect kids

March 11, 1998
Web posted at: 12:09 p.m. EST (1709 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Teen-age girls are the most vulnerable victims of pedophiles on the Internet, and parents are too complacent about cyber-pedophile threats to their children, FBI officials warn.

FBI Director Louis Freeh told a Senate panel Tuesday that that child sex predators are far more pervasive on the Internet than most parents suspect, and law enforcement officials need to become more sophisticated to combat them.

Freeh said the FBI has investigated at least 70 cases in which an adult builds up trust with a young person through contacts on the Internet and convinces the minor to meet somewhere for illicit sexual purposes.

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In one example of the risks, FBI agent Linda Hooper said that when an agent pretending to be a teen-age girl signed on to a "chat room" limited to 23 children, all 22 other "youths" turned out to be adults seeking improper contact with her.

"You used to be able to tell your kid, don't talk to strangers, don't take money from strangers," said Sen. Judd Gregg, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary.

"But now the stranger isn't outside the house. The stranger can be inside, on the Internet," the New Hampshire Republican added.

Congress last year gave the FBI $10 million to set up the "Innocent Images" program to combat child predators and child pornographers on the Internet. A program headquarters has been set up in Baltimore, and law enforcement agents are now trying to train more people in federal and local agencies.

This week, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) opened the CyberTipline on the Internet, ( where people can report leads about possible cyber-exploitation. The program is run with the cooperation of the FBI.  

NCMEC President Ernest Allen said the tip line got 150 responses in just the first day.

The CyberTipline was not intended to fan the flames of public hysteria by exaggerating the prevalence of pornographers and pedophiles on the Internet, he said.

"The message is not that the Internet is not a safe place for kids," Allen said, but that "prevention, education and information" -- coupled with the use of filtering software -- can help parents feel secure that their children are not in danger while engaging in online activities.

On Tuesday, the NCMEC also marked the publication of an update of a popular brochure on safe online conduct for teens and parents written by Larry Magid (, a syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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