Text Offenders

Text Offenders

By Jeanie Powell - bio | email
Posted by Dana Franks - email

As technology continues to change our way of life, law enforcement is finding predators bringing themselves up-to-speed with the latest technology.

We're specifically talking about one of the most popular and convenient ways of communicating and that's through your cell phone.

Some sex offenders lure their victims with the device. While area law enforcement officers don't have a large number of these cases reported, we're told it does happen.

And every day as the world becomes more advanced, so will criminals.

Megan White is 13 years old. Her parents want to protect her from the Internet, so that means no Facebook nor MySpace.

Her mother, Michelle White, told WAFF 48 News, "I know sometimes she probably thinks I'm too over-protective, but you've got to be in this day and time."

Megan got a Sidekick Slide at the age 11.

"I just have texting on it," she said.

But through texting alone, she recently discovered she had received two suspicious text messages checking her phone after church.

Megan said, "I got a text message saying to come join me online."

"They wanted to meet her online and go to this website," said Michelle

The person gave her a user name and said he got her number from a friend. But none of her friends gave out her digits.

Megan's parents went to police. An investigator asked if Megan had been giving personal information out over the Internet. She had not.

The investigator told Megan's parents to go to the website without her around. But once they got home, the site had been shut down.

"I was very upset that someone had sent this type of text to my daughter, especially since she is 13," Michelle said.

WAFF 48 News caught up with Alan Jones, the director of network services at Corr Wireless.

"Probably within the last two to three years, your customer base keeps getting younger and younger," he said.

Jones says pre-teens are the cell phone provider's biggest clients right now. Employees provide parents with safety options.

He showed us the Firefly phone.

"It has basically your dad key, your mom key," Jones said. "Those keys are programmed in by the parents and it also has a phonebook key."

The phone is activated by a PIN code, so parents control who their kids are talking to. It has no Internet or text messages, just generic phone calls.

When asked if parents take advantage of these safety features, Jones responded, "You'd be surprised how many don't."

Some phones give you the capability to track sex offenders on your phone, but sex offenders can also catch up with you. Attorney General Troy King is pushing for stronger laws to protect our youth from predators.

He told WAFF 48 News, "I can't overstate the importance of us catching the law up with technology."

When asked if he sees a lot of cases where sex offenders use their cell phones to contact victims, he said yes and that, "every kind of technology is being used by sex offenders to try to perpetrate their despicable crimes."

King's backing legislation that would require convicted sex offenders to register their email addresses and online identifiers like chat room and screen names.

Investigator Shawn McClure oversees registration for sex offenders living in Madison County.

"I think it's very important that we know all that information so we're able to track them even better," McClure said.

King told WAFF 48 News a crime that's a bigger problem than people realize is predators using their cell phones to spy on their victims.

Current Alabama code doesn't specifically recognize video voyeurism. King said he wants to make it a crime for a person to use their PDA to take a picture without the victim's consent, then broadcast images over the Internet.

But minors also need to know inappropriate pictures they snap of themselves can easily fall into the wrong hands. King said that's illegal.

"That is against the law in Alabama," he said. "If you're a minor and you take pictures of yourself that are inappropriate and you distribute them, you are distributing child pornography."

Remember, once pictures get to cyberspace, they're there forever.

House Bill 426 and Senate Bill 327 that address video voyeurism and registering online identifiers are in committee and we'll keep you updated on their status.

Parents, below we've posted information on how you can decode text and Internet slang so you can be in the know.