Free software to protect children online

By Liz Flynn - bio | email

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Most of us have security programs to protect our computers, but if a software program could protect your children, would you use it? The Chatham County Sheriff's Department is offering a new program for free that's designed to safeguard something very precious to you.

"If I'm online, if I'm talking to someone, it's people I know," explained Jazmine Ellis.

At 15, Ellis, a Chatham County Youth Commissioner, feels she knows how to use the internet responsibly.

"If someone that I don't know from out of state is trying to talk to me online, I just ignore it," she said.

Jazmine's mother, Katrina Ellis, doesn't worry much about her daughter, but she is concerned about Jazmine's younger siblings, ages nine and seven. She was one of the first to pick up a copy of Computer Cop, a CD software program the Chatham County Sheriff's Department is offering free to Chatham County parents. She supervises her children's time on the internet; however, she said this is an extra measure of safety.

"With them being so young, they don't know it's a chat room," she said. "They just see something and want to try it out."

"We tell parents all the time, 'Do you know where your children are?'" But they need to know what they're doing," explained Chatham County Sheriff Al St. Lawrence.

With just a few mouse clicks, the program checks email, text documents and websites for anything suspicious. It will even let you scan picture by picture to see exactly where your child has been on the internet.

"You'll know who they've been talking to," said Sheriff St. Lawrence, "who they've been contacting and what kind of information they're giving out. I think it's just a good tool in crime prevention for parents to know what their children are doing."

Computer Cop also teaches parents about computer security features and links them to important sites to check for sex offenders online.

"In Chatham County, we have over 400 registered sex offenders," said Lt. Tommy Tillman with the Chatham County Sheriff's Department. "That's daunting. When your child gets on the internet, they are exposing themselves to untold thousands of sexual offenders that are out there, nationwide and worldwide."

Knowing Computer Cop can help keep her children away from them is peace of mind for parents like Katrina Ellis.

"This really will help," she said.

The Computer Cop CD is free; however, the Chatham County Sheriff's Department only has 2,500 copies so it is only being offered to parents in Chatham County. You can pick one up staring on Monday at the Chatham County Sheriff's Department at 1050 Carl Griffin Drive, Savannah, the Chatham County Youth Commission (Human Resources) office on the first floor of the Old Courthouse building at 124 Bull Street, Savannah, or by contacting any Chatham County Sheriff's deputy at the Chatham County Courthouse, 133 Montgomery Street, Savannah.

All three buildings are open Monday - Friday, 8am - 5pm. You must sign a waiver and be a parent or guardian who resides in Chatham County to obtain a copy. Only one CD will be given per household.

Computer Cop Software Highlights (from the Chatham County Sheriff's Department)

Computer Cop software not only monitors your child's online activity, but also provides parents with useful information and valuable tools that will allow them to:

  • Spot potential predators online
  • Report potential predators
  • Set up your computer's built in security features
  • Access links to internet safety resources
  • Enter into an Internet Safety Pledge (pledge included) with their child
  • Access provided link to search for registered sex offenders in Georgia
  • Spot online juvenile crime
  • Translate commonly used shorthand used in instant messages and chat rooms

The Computer Cop software provides a valuable tool for parents to ensure that their children are following the rules that they have established for their safety when surfing the web.

Dangers children face on the internet:

  • Sexual solicitation
  • Cyber bullying
  • Exposure to sexually explicit material
  • Contact with adults posing as children

Statistics:

  • 1 in 5 youths have been sexually approached or solicited online
  • 1 in 4 have received unwanted exposure to sexually explicit material
  • 1 in 17 have been threatened or harassed
  • MySpace has 60 million monthly users, less than 20% of which are teens or preteens
  • Children start giving personal information as early as 9 years old
  • Most children feel it is alright to "fool around" or experiment online with strangers
  • Most children believe what happens online will remain secret