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Internet dangers shared at 'Life Night'

An FBI agent talks to teens about online predators and the dangers associated with some Internet tools.

Published September 28, 2006 isn't the only craze keeping teens interested in the Internet.

From file sharing for music to playing video games with strangers, teens are finding cyberspace a great way to alleviate boredom.

But according to FBI Special Agent Sue Bucenell, a lot of teens may end up facing consequences in the real world for their actions in virtual one.

And that's why she delivered a presentation at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church's high school "Life Night" on Sunday.

"I was your age once, and I remember when I used to think that I was invincible," she said to the more than 60 teens who attended her presentation. "Nothing had consequences. (But) you will see that anything and everything you put on the Internet is there forever. And there's lots of consequences to that."

During her presentation, Bucenell, who works against the online sexual exploitation of children, shared with her audience a long list of the online tools teenagers use along with a list of the dangers associated with them.

"Do you know who you're talking to?" she asked the crowd of teens, some of whom admitted to communicating with strangers online frequently.

"No," a young man said.

"You have no idea," Bucenell warned.

"Freaky old men?" guessed Nancy McCabe, a 15-year-old who uses social networking sites MySpace and Facebook for keeping in touch with friends, as well as Xbox Live for gaming and AOL Instant messenger for chatting.

Bucenell said Nancy's guess was correct - a little too often for comfort.

"It makes me feel very unsafe," said Nancy, who uses a privacy setting on her MySpace profile.

"Despite the fact that your MySpace is 'private,' there are codes out there that 'freaky old men' (use) to break in to your (private) MySpace," Bucenell said. And according to Bucenell, those codes aren't difficult to access. "I am here to tell you that there is absolutely nothing that you do on the Internet that is private."

And while the sites teens are using have become notorious for pulling in predators, that it isn't the only problem teens could encounter.

"Employers now hire computer savvy people to search these things," Bucenell said. "People are getting denied employment every day because of these sites. When you have pictures on there of you either exposing yourself, or guzzling beer at a beer party, do you think somebody's going to hire you?"

Bucenell also urged teens to take care when it comes to Web cams.

"There's a worm that people know how to use to backdoor your computer, turn your Web cam on and watch you when you don't even know they're doing it," she said.

"Are you serious?" one teen asked.

Bucenell wasn't kidding.

"Absolutely," she said. "If you're not using it at that very second, unplug it."

Fifteen-year-old Casey Pelaez doesn't have a Web cam, but for her, that doesn't matter.

"I don't have a Web cam or anything," she said. "But it's just weird knowing that someone could be watching you."

Nancy agreed.

"They're just 'Creepy McCreeperson,' " she said. "I never realized they could do that."

And if that wasn't a shock for some of the teens at the presentation, what Bucenell said about file sharing programs was.

"If you want to download music, do it the legal way; pay for it," said Bucenell. "That's not what (file sharing programs) are made for."

File sharing programs like LimeWire and Kazaa have become popular spots for swapping music for free.

"That's an FBI violation," she said. "Not only is it illegal, but you may unknowingly download inappropriate or illegal materials like pornography or child pornography. Sick people use file sharing, too."

And by the end of the presentation, 17-year-old Katie Pazanese decided she'd be making some changes in her computer life.

"I'm going to stop downloading music from LimeWire," she said, "and I'm going to get rid of all the stuff on my MySpace that I don't want people to know. I'm definitely going to be more cautious about what I put on."

Casey has the same plan.

"I'm going to take more precautions."

Frances Cabrini Youth Minister Jason Carter, who helped organize the event, was glad to hear it.

"They learned a lot," he said. "And a lot of (the teens) are going to be more careful. It was a very successful night."

And while Bucenell may have scared some of the teens with what she had to say, she also spoke highly of the benefits the Internet can bring for its users.

"The Internet is great for a lot of things," she said. "We all have to use it these days, not only to communicate but to do projects and research."

And no matter what they're using it for, Bucenell's message came with a warning.

"You can be anybody you want to be behind that computer," she said. "And so can they."

[Last modified September 28, 2006, 07:15:39]

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