A savvy mom helped the police arrest a sex offender who was trying to arrange a meeting with her young daughter. The mother, whose daughter is under 15 years old and wishes to remain anonymous, was monitoring her daughter’s Facebook page when she spotted messages from an older man she didn’t know, according to ABC10 News.
“The messages at first were about trying to meet; [they] seemed innocuous,” Robert Winn, a police lieutenant in Colonie, N.Y., told ABC10 News Monday.
The mom responded to the messages to find out more about who this man was. He wrote back right away, thinking he was emailing with her daughter, and his messages quickly became sexual in nature. The mom did some sleuthing to find out more about him and discovered that the man, Dennis Williams, 33, of Nassau, N.Y., was not only using his real name, but that he’s also a level 2 sex offender. Williams was convicted of attempting to distribute indecent material to a minor in 2009, according to ABC10 News.
The mom called the police, who then set up a sting operation. Investigators pretended to be the mom’s daughter and contacted Williams under the guise of meeting for a sexual encounter. Williams then texted nude photos of himself to what he thought was the daughter. When Williams showed up at the meeting point, he was arrested and is currently in jail without bail.
Police are giving the mom kudos for keeping a close eye on her daughter’s social media account. “They have a good enough relationship where the mom was monitoring her Internet activities,” Winn said, “and in this case, it prevented what could have possibly been a very bad decision on her part, as well as a criminal act on his.”
Winn is asking other parents to be on alert since the young daughter wasn’t the only one the sex offender reached out to. “That day he sent the message to her, he sent the same message to hundreds of other girls, and they were friends of hers or friends of friends, and that’s how he got her name.”
Added Winn: “His intent that day was to have sex with an underage female, and we prevented that from happening.”
Mary Kay Hoal, an expert in children’s online safety and president of Yoursphere Media, which publishes a social network for kids, applauds what the mom did to protect her daughter. “She was digitally educated, aware, and involved in what her daughter was doing,” Hoal tells Yahoo Parenting.
To keep kids safe online, Hoal recommends that parents have an ongoing, open conversation with their children and teens about their social media activity, including monitoring their accounts and talking to them about the risks of interacting with strangers online. “One of the major things a parent can do is limit who their children or teens are connected with — who is following them and who are they friends with online?” suggests Hoal. “They should only be connected with people they’ve met in real life and that they know.”
She adds: “If you didn’t have your computer or phone in front of you, you wouldn’t be having these conversations with strangers. You wouldn’t be doing this in person, so you shouldn’t be doing it online.”
Hoal notes that monitoring children’s social media accounts on a regular basis requires a real time commitment. “If you’re giving them access [to the Internet], you have to be willing to spend time going through their friends and followers with them,” she says. “You can tell them, ‘I want to make sure these are people you know in real life to eliminate the risk of what happened to this teen and her mom and the sex offender contacting her.”
If your teen decides to ignore your social media rules, make sure there are consequences in place. “It’s your obligation as parents to make sure your child is safe and has learned to use social media responsibility,” she says.