The new face of Stranger Danger in SWFL


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The new face of Stranger Danger in SWFL

By Kelli Stegeman. CREATED Feb 5, 2014

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. - Do you know the names 'Omegle' and 'Iddin?' Chances are, your kids do.

According to Southwest Florida law enforcement, if you are a parent you should know exactly what they mean. 
It could be key to keeping your child safe.
Four in Your Corner's Kelli Stegeman talked with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office on new ways pedophiles are moving in and why they are powerless to stop it. 
"We have predators trying to meet younger, young males and females," said Detective Keith Depersia with the CCSO. 
"That's happening right now?" asked Stegeman. "In Southwest Florida?"
"Yes," Det. Depersia responded. 
The internet is nothing new. What's new is where those keystrokes can take you. 
"You don't really know who is on the other end," said Det. Depersia. 
The detective investigates computer crimes for CCSO. In the decades on the job he's seen cases that could send chills down your spine.
"Is there anything that you've seen that really scares you?" Stegeman asked him. 
"Yeah," he replied. "The anonymous chat with kids." 
For the CCSO, anonymous chat rooms are the new face of stranger danger. 
"Most of the kids are thinking that they are going to be talking to somebody their own age and a lot of times you have the predators out there that are posing as teens," said Det. Depersia.
Omegle, Kik and Iddin are the hottest sites for kids to meet up with total strangers
Det. Depersia says it's scary to see the information so many are offering freely. 
It doesn't take much to get them to talk.
"If a pedophile wants to track down a child, would you say that it would be easy for them to do so?" Stegeman asked. 
"Unfortunately it is easy," he said. 
The risk isn't with just computers. The crime is on the move with your child's cell phone offering apps wherever you are.
"You have to have the cell phones so that you can get a hold of them, but yet they have that tool in their hand where they can get a hold of the world," Det. Depersia said.
Law enforcement is powerless to stop online predators.
"When it comes to eradicating this type of crime, can you?" Stegeman asked. 
It didn't take long for Det. Depersia to answer 'No.'
"Why can't you? Why cant the NYPD? Why can't the largest law enforcement agencies in the world eradicate this?" asked Stegeman. 
"It's like trying to plug holes in a sinking ship," Det. Depersia explained. "You get one area and you'll get a leak in another area."
Sgt. Catherine Stewart works in the Juvenile Operations Division. She's on the ground with the only ones who can stop it; kids and parents.
"We actually hit every single grade in every single middle school and high school," said Sgt. Stewart. "They go through a program called the Bully Academy." 
The academy covers bullying, sexting, internet and phone use. Stewart thinks parents are intimidated by technology their kids know more about.
"Kids are very, very smart and they know how to hide it quite well," she said.
The CCSO attends PTO meetings to educate parents. 
They tell kids to never give personal information like your name, address or phone number. 
Also, do not share any pictures. Even what you're wearing can give strangers a clue as to where you live. 
For parents they say to check computer browsing history, phones, text messages and don't let kids put a lock on their phones at any age.
"We feel that we need to start younger," said Sgt Stewart. "These kids are, like I said, are very savvy. They know what they are doing with a computer and we need to get the SROs in there and educate these children at a younger age."
"If we continue to educate the parents and the children, we might be able to at least slow the crimes against children," said Det. Depersia. 
The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office says 11 to 17-year-olds are most at risk but it is happening to younger kids too.
Starting in January Charlotte County put school resource officers in every single elementary school to start awareness even earlier.