Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of kids cyber crime victims, and it's tip of iceberg - PSNI has warned

By Deborah McAleese

Children as young as 10 are being threatened, harassed and sexually abused online, the PSNI has warned.

Police received an average of 14 reports a w eek from victims of online bullying, fraud, sex abuse, blackmail and even death threats according to new police records.

More than 400 offences were reported within the space of seven months, up to the end of April this year. Almost 80 of those victims were aged between 10 and 19.

Policing Board member Jonathan Craig warned, however, that these figures were only the tip of the iceberg. He said: "The vast majority of cyber crime isn't being reported. The problem is much bigger than the statistics currently suggest."

Detectives from the PSNI's Organised Crime Branch have voiced concern over the number of children targeted online.

"The internet is a fantastic resource for learning, communicating and entertainment but, on the down side, it also provides opportunities for some individuals or groups to harm or abuse people, particularly young people.

"We are concerned about the number of younger victims in the provisional figures we have released," said Detective Chief Inspector Douglas Grant, the PSNI's lead officer for cyber investigations. The warnings were issued as a major awareness campaign was launched aimed at parents to help keep their children safe online.

The campaign was launched by the PSNI non-profit awareness organisation Get Safe Online, internet security company Norton by Symantec, the Organised Crime Task Force and the safety and life skills education centre RADAR.

"The best place to access useful information is online at www.GetSafeOn line.org but our local officers will be going into schools and talking to 11 to 14-year-olds about safe use of the online environment. We will be providing basic material to encourage parents and children to become aware of the risks and do something about it together, what we call getting Switched On.

"At the same time, detectives will be investigating all reports of cyber-enabled crime which are reported to police," added Detective Chief Inspector Grant.

Online harassment and fraud have led to almost 300 reports from victims over the past seven months.

Police said that during that time 45 incidents of a sexual nature were also recorded, as well as 32 threats to kill and seven reports of blackmail.

A breakdown of the victim profile shows 78 were aged between 10-19, 113 aged between 20-29 and 71 aged between 30-39.

The PSNI said that, to date, 31 offenders have been detected and dealt with either by way of charge, summons, caution or discretionary disposal.

Justice Minister David Ford said as the internet becomes an ever increasing part of daily life "it is vital that everyone knows how to keep themselves safe online".

"This is particularly important for young people," he added.

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