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Parents Should Monitor Kids' Internet Use to Keep Them Safe, Detective Says

 Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) hosted a meeting on Internet safety along with St. John Fisher School in Beverly.
Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) hosted a meeting on Internet safety along with St. John Fisher School in Beverly.
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BEVERLY — Det. Charles Hollendoner has seen the underbelly of the Internet in his 23 years working with the Chicago Police Department.

Hollendoner investigates online crimes including cyberbullying, solicitation of minors and other sexual offenses. His powerful advice left many parents and educators with a sick feeling Thursday night.

"Where I sat, I could see the parents' facial expressions," Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) said. "Clearly, Det. Hollendoner had their attention."

O'Shea hosted the meeting along with St. John Fisher School in Beverly. A crowd of more than 200 gathered in the school's Kane Hall at 10200 S. Washtenaw Ave. The "parents-only" meeting was held in the wake of a sexting incident in March.

Hollendoner said he's one of just four Chicago Police officers with the sole purpose of investigating online crimes involving children. The group handles more than 100 cases each month.

His insights on Thursday were aimed at parents looking to protect their kids. Here are a few of his tips that stood out:

• Most kids aren't active on Facebook anymore. This is largely because their parents are active users. Instead, kids have found new ways to share information without being monitored.

• Adults often think pedophiles are old men who lie about their age to attract prepubescent girls. In fact, Hollendoner said the pedophiles he sees most often are 23-30 year-old men who never lie about their age. Rather, these predators work to convince an unstable 12-17 year-old girl to explore a relationship with an older man.

• A pedophile will often send gifts to a child he or she is "grooming," Hollendoner said. "Guys like to send gifts because they get your address with a gift," he said.

• Hollendoner said 75 percent of the underage victims he sees are girls. When it comes to boys, the detective said cyber predators often rely on relationships built through online gaming. He said boys unknowingly share a significant amount of personal information while playing games with strangers.

• Parents should know the passwords to their children's devices and social media platforms — no one else. He said girls in particular easily fall victim to cyberbullying when they share passwords with friends. When those friendships fall apart, a former "bestie" can go online and post photos or other damaging information on a one-time pal's account.

• Teens sending naked pictures to each other is a growing concern for Hollendoner and his team. It's often girls who are asked to send a photo by a boyfriend who wants to prove his sexual prowess among his friends. But girls can also be peer pressured by other girls into taking a nude selfie, he said.

• Once a naked picture is taken and sent the problems compound. First the subject of the photo is prone to bullying if the pic is leaked. Girls caught in this situation are often labeled tramps, Hollendoner said.

• Even if the photo is not immediately distributed, the person receiving the photo can easily blackmail by the sender by threatening to distribute the shot unless more pictures arrive.

• Hollendoner said some apps and websites that parents ought to be on the lookout for include Kik, a texting app teens often use to hide conversations. Snapchat is a mobile app for sharing pictures also frequented by young users. Whisper is an app specifically designed for "sharing secrets," Hollendoner said. And Omegle is an app entirely based on the concept of talking with strangers.

Hollendoner admitted that the Chicago Police Department can't protect everyone online. Neither can parents. But parents owe it to their children to at least attempt to monitor their Internet activity, he said. And if that means snooping on their phone or taking away their devices, so be it.

"I know your kids are going to be mad. I know your kids are going to hate you for it," he said.

Finally, Hollendoner encouraged anyone with an Internet crime to report in the Chicago area to call 911. Those facing online issues with predators located elsewhere can visit www.cybertipline.com or call 800-843-5678.

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