Trooper lists online safety tips


On the heels of the arrest of a Belleville man earlier this month for his role as an alleged sexual predator, the N.J. Attorney General’s Office sponsored an Internet Safety & Child Protection Forum in the township last Thursday evening, Dec. 15, at Hendrick’s Field Golf Course.

The turnout was small, probably due to the severe cold, but the adverse weather didn’t deter Belleville Police Chief Mark Minichini and Superintendent of Schools Richard Tomko from attending.

“I applaud the Attorney General for having this presentation for the public,” Minichini said.

“It’s important for parents, in particular, to learn about the perils associated with certain internet websites where kids can go on anonymously and they can mask it from detection by their parents.”

Det. Christopher Camm, a member of the N.J. State Police (NJSP) Digital Technology Investigations Unit (DTIU), listed some of the more insidious electronic sources in his presentation at the forum.

One of those – Kik – a mobile chat app available for download on smartphones (iOS and Android) as well as tablets – was used, according to police, by the Belleville suspect, Ethan Z. Chandler, 42, the operator of a video production company (Primetime Sports) that features sports events filmed at schools in the region, when he “allegedly engaged in sexually explicit chats” with an individual the suspect believed was a 13-year-old boy but who, in fact, was an undercover cop.

Camm said that Kik is wildly popular with teens.

“Kids are flocking to it,” he said, because even if parents look to check out their child’s phone, “they’re generally unaware of [this app]” and, unfortunately, “predators are going there” to try and chat up kids.

Before Chandler got to Kik, though, he allegedly placed an ad on Craigslist soliciting oral sex with a young man, police said. When the undercover cop responded, Chandler allegedly invited the “13-year-old” to use Kik to communicate further with him, police said. (Chandler is awaiting prosecution on charges of sexual assault and criminal sexual assault in several incidents involving a teen boy in his Belleville apartment.)

While Craigslist can be a vehicle for conducting legitimate business, it can also expose the user to what Camm called an “underbelly” in its “personals” and “discussion forums” which “cater to every type of sexuality.”

And because would-be predators are posting ads that are carefully phrased to say something like “they’re looking for contact with young people, it’s vague enough” so that it may not afford strong enough grounds for the site operator to delete them.

Another potential “time bomb,” Camm continued, is Snapchat which gives teens a forum for “sending inappropriate photos and/or videos” that cannot be deleted once they are “out there.”

A web-based site called Omegle invites the user to “activate a web-cam and mic” and “talk to a stranger,” Camm said. And there is no log in required, “so you’re anonymous.”

“Kids get on the site and they have ‘Omegle parties,’ they can see adult nudity, for example, and predators are recording (with) screen-capture programs. It’s very scary and, unlike Craigslist, there’s no redeeming feature here – there’s no good reason for kids to be on it,” the detective said.

In “,” Camm said the user is directed to a “retro-style text community chat room” which “requires no user name” to enter and which allows users to “create their own rooms with or without a password to enter” and where users “can share pictures and videos – there’s a ton of child porn being thrown around there.”

And, Camm added, there are the “encrypted containers,” apps that are “password-protected” and often “disguised” by seemingly innocuous names like “calculator” designed to throw off probing parents.

NJSP investigators are doing all they can to nab the bad guys, Camm said, but because tracking Internet-based suspects is much more tricky than grabbing a suspect off a street, it’s often a frustrating, time-consuming effort.

Another factor weighting against the anti-predator campaign, he said, is that sheer number of offenders is ever-expanding. “It’s something way more prevalent than anyone would expect,” he said. “I’ve been doing this eight years now and every year, we’ve been getting more complaints. Cyber tips come in every day – hundreds each month. It’s non-stop.”

A big help to the DTIU, said Camm, is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “They’re a big source of information for us.”

Also of assistance is the New Jersey Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Tipline (888-648-6007) which accepts information – on a confidential basis – about online distribution of child porn or suspected improper contact by unknown persons communicating with children online or possible sexual abuse of children.

What can parents do on their own to help protect their kids against potential predators?

Parents can acquire any of a variety of “tech options” to ride herd on their kids’ electronic explorations such as consulting their cell phone provider, searching their phones or monitoring software via such systems as “Rakkoon” (iOS), “TeenSafe” (Android) and “Circle” (Home), among others, Camm said.

But parents should realize, he cautioned, “that technology can always be thwarted – today’s kids are smart and they can find a way around it.”

And, he said, given that kids’ “main conduit to the Internet is through their cell phone,” often the best course is to “restrict the use of or eliminate their smartphone – give them a flip phone, instead.”

“Most important,” Camm said, “is to communicate with your children about the kind of information they’re putting out there. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes a child will inadvertently go onto a bad site and see stuff and if you can establish trust with them, the best thing is getting your kids to come and tell you when they find it.”

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