Online crimes increase, Mason spreads awareness

Elina Bishoyi | The Chronicle

The digital age can be deadly.

On December 5th, Agent Brian with the Secret Service educated parents about the dangers of online crimes during the Cyber Safety Awareness event at the Mason Municipal Center. This event was hosted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in partnership with the Secret Service, who began this nationwide initiative.

Officer Matt Kimbrell, Mason High School (MHS) Campus Safety officer, assisted in reaching out to the Secret Service and organizing the event. Kimbrell said he hopes the event will spread awareness around Mason.

“[The internet] can be a great tool, but it can also be a very dangerous tool,” Kimbrell said. “Our whole goal is hoping this information reaches as many people in our community so we felt it was imperative to do it again.”

Officer Kimbrell said he has seen the number of cyber crimes increasing in the past few years. According to NCMEC, the number of online enticement cases has increased roughly 97.5% from 2019 to 2020, the year Covid-19 increased digital interactions.

“Everything is online now, so the numbers of internet crimes have been skyrocketing in the past two years, and the only way to combat that is to educate,” Kimbrell said. “Hopefully you learn what’s appropriate, what could be potentially dangerous, how to avoid those dangerous activities and then know where to turn to for help.”

Agent Brian is an ambassador for NCMEC and has educated students across the country since 2020. He said he has interacted with students and adults to further the mission of NCMEC and provide education to prevent cyber crimes from growing.

“If we can catch someone before they get victimized that’s ideal, but even if someone has been victimized, we can help them,” Agent Brian said. “[This event] is about bringing awareness to the issues, reducing victimization, educating and helping the lost get back home.”

Using these organizations and events, Officer Kimbrell has taken the initiative to educate the Mason community about the dangers of the internet and the new crimes the digital age has brought. 

“I think when people think of “abduction” it’s a van that pulls up and sweeps you into it and drives away,” Kimbrell said. “That happens, but it is very unlikely. The majority of the time, [abduction happens] through online relationships that are built with vulnerable people looking for support and are manipulated into doing acts they wouldn’t have done prior.”

Cybersecurity affects anyone who avidly uses the internet, making high schoolers today a prime target. Students often manage several social media pages including their personal Instagram and Twitter accounts, but many are also tasked with managing club and organization social media pages to spread awareness about certain causes and fundraisers. For the MHS Student Government, senior Riya Patel acts as social media manager and has found the social media platforms she uses to be an effective way of promoting clubs and events. 

“Usually we use [social media] to promote our upcoming events,” said Patel. “We also use Instagram to post pictures of our events and how successful they were just to promote the club.”

Patel said she believes that cyber safety education is important amongst students to prevent crimes from occuring. As communication between strangers becomes easier with social media and the internet, cyber safety training is useful in preventing these interactions from turning into dangerous situations.

“I think [students] should have cyber safety training, especially, in the younger grades when [students] are starting to get social media and exploring the whole internet,” Patel said. “[They need] a rundown of how dangerous [the internet] can actually be and how it’s not just a joke – it’s actually serious.”

Even though Patel said she has not directly seen cases of severe cyber crime, she knows the effects of misusing technology.

“There’s a lot of weird people on social media and it’s so easy to disguise yourself as someone you’re not,” Patel said. “You never know who’s behind the screen.”

Agent Brian believes his role in educating students and parents, particularly high school students and parents of high school students, plays a crucial role in preventing abductions and further internet crimes.

“Many times high schoolers are not cognizant of the people out there who intend to do them harm,” Agent Brian said. “That’s why I’m here: to help educate and bring awareness to these topics that could be harmful to a student’s life.”

Infographic by Allison Droege