by Mary Fernando
Amanda Todd was in grade seven when an online stranger convinced her to expose her breasts. Then he attempted to blackmail her, saying he would send Amanda’s naked image to family and friends if she didn't provide him with more nudes. She refused. He sent her nudes and, from that point on, she was ridiculed and bullied.
After making a heartbreaking video, Amanda took her own life at fifteen.
Research looking at 110,000 children, all younger than 18 and some as young as 11, found that one in four young people had received sexts, and one in seven reported sending them.
This is the new back alley rife with predator crime: the internet.
Darren Laur spent 30 years of his life as an inner city policeman. He retired three years ago, got certified in Open Source Intelligence and now specializes in online investigations.
“To date we have saved 186 youth who were considering suicide and self-harm in response to bullying and a full third of these were because of sexting,” says Darren in a voice that marries authority and empathy in equal measure. “We have the resources to do these investigations and put a package together to bring to law enforcement.”
As a policeman he wants to do what he has always done - he wants to put the bad guys away. He also wants to continue the work he did in the inner city - to help people by steering them in the right direction. Through his company - White Hatters - he does outreach for teens. His research shows that 1/4 of teens have sent nudes by the age of 16, and the youngest one was in grade 4. 79% of them were pressured into sending these nudes - often in the context of relationship building.
So, while explaining the dangers of sexting, Darren also recognizes a painful truth: preaching abstinence will only work for some. Just like with sex education with young people, an abstinence-only message is not as useful as giving a more robust message of safe sex and protection. With sexting that is the message he offers. Safe sexting.
If you are going to sext- because young people will - Daren teaches harm reduction. Sexting should be done without your face, or anything that can identify you like tattoos, clothing, background. This way, if it goes public it is not evident it is you and there is deniability. He also teaches how to scrub any metadata that identifies the individual.
Darren explains that safe internet interaction applies to a far wider area than sexting. Those of us on the internet might want to be aware of another internet crime: Phishing.
This is the use of a phishing link on twitter, email or texts, where a simple click can open you up to identity theft and fraud. Fraudsters will use social engineering to assess our likes and dislikes and use them to fool us into clicking links.
“According to Symantec’s 2018 Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), a whopping 54.6% of all email is spam. Even more to the point, their data show that the average user receives 16 malicious spam emails per month”
“There were two bits of very bad news for consumers in the recent annual survey of identity-based fraud. First, there were 16.7 million victims in 2017, easily the most ever, fuelled in part by a series of high-profile data breaches. But even worse, criminals are migrating to more sophisticated, multistep frauds, with the rates of new account fraud and noncredit credit card fraud soaring. Why should you care? Those are the crimes with the most potential to hurt your credit score.”
Darren explains, “We can strengthen internet security, but the weakest link is always the human link.”
Every day, I join many others in clicking sites on searches, opening emails and texts and clicking interesting URLs on Twitter - oh, a cute dog video! Click. Click.
I agree with Daren. I’m a weak link. Wandering around like Bambi in the wild west of the internet.
I’m grateful that we have Darren Laur and investigators like him to educate us and – if we become a victim of identity theft or a number of other crimes – we have someone to fish us out.