Help is available, Northern Ireland teens tricked into sending indecent images told
An internet safety expert has told teenage boys who may have been duped into sending indecent images of themselves to a fake Instagram account that support is available.
Jim Gamble of the online safeguarding group Ineqe spoke out after the PSNI said a number of youths in the Carrickfergus area had been contacted and asked to send photos of themselves.
The PSNI confirmed that the profile picture used for this account was a stock image taken from another website and urged anyone who had been in contact with the Instagram account to come forward.
Officers also asked parents to talk to their children and to explain the risks involved with accepting friend requests from strangers online.
Mr Gamble, whose company specialises in safeguarding and child protection, said: "These accounts are all over the place and people need to have a heightened awareness of them.
"There is a real danger in sharing an image, because once it has been sent, you can lose control over it.
"The difficulty here is what the intent behind this account set up is."
Mr Gamble stressed the PSNI was supportive of people caught up in these situations and encouraged anyone who may have sent a photo to this account not to panic.
He said: "Don't think all hope is lost. We have all made mistakes, and many of us were lucky when we were younger that these apps were not readily available to us.
"This can happen to a lot of people. The sooner you ask for help, the greater opportunity there is to take the photo down. Talk to someone you trust. The worst thing you can do is sit and worry."
Mr Gamble has advised parents to take the time to sit down and talk to their children, saying: "Plant seeds in the child's mind, so they know they can ask someone for help.
"A stock picture captured from somewhere online can be used like a fishing lure."
The former senior police officer added: "We cannot rule out that it might be vigilante hunters, which is difficult as they could be inciting others to commit crime. It is a complicated area."
A spokesperson for the children's charity NSPCC NI said: "Children and young people now live so much of their lives online and while we know that this can provide great benefits via opportunities for learning and socialising, it also presents a number of risks.
"By using smart phones and tablets many young people are exploring the online world behind closed doors, making it ever more difficult for parents to know what their children are doing.
"And the rise in the 'selfie' culture and use of social media could also see more young people putting themselves at greater risk of bullying, sexual exploitation and grooming by online predators.
"We would urge parents to educate themselves about the potential dangers online so they can talk to their children.
"The NSPCC has a wealth of information and guidance on how to talk to children about the internet, including how to tackle conversations about sexting, avoiding sharing personal information and not putting themselves at risk of harm."
The PSNI have issued the following advice for parents and children
- Don’t share personal information or images with people who you don’t know.
- Don’t accept friend requests with someone you don’t know - everyone online may not be who they say they are.
- Set privacy settings on all devices so that only people you know can view your account.
- Don’t post anything online that you are not happy to be shared, particularly nude or nearly nude images or videos. It may seem like a bit of fun with friends at the time but there is always a chance those images could be shared or get into the wrong hands and could lead to harmful situations such as stalking, abuse or blackmail.
- If someone has made you feel uncomfortable or you have had disturbing interaction online, tell police or a trusted adult. You can ring the police on 101 or for help and advice ring Childline on 0800 1111 or Lifeline on 0808 808 8000.
- The internet can be a great place but it is important to remember there are people out there who may wish to abuse, exploit, intimidate or bully you online – if this happens to you, tell someone immediately.
- Remember that if things do go wrong online, there are people who can help.
- If you receive any inappropriate images or links, it is important that you do not forward it to anyone else. Contact police or tell a trusted adult immediately. By doing this you could help prevent further such incidents.
General advice to parents
- The most important thing is to have conversations with your children - talk to them about the benefits and dangers of the internet so that you can empower them to use the internet safely.
- Cultivate an interest in their online activities - their favourite websites, online games and interests and keep an eye on what they are doing online.
- Don't be afraid to ask your children who they are talking to online and what they are talking about and remind them how important it is to tell a trusted adult if something happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable or worried because there are people who can help.
- Become a net-savvy parent - the best safeguard against online dangers is being informed. Jump in and learn the basics of the Internet - read articles, take a class, and talk to other parents. You don’t have to be an expert to have a handle on your child’s online world.
- Go to www.getsafeonline.org for lots of useful advice and information on how to stay safe online.