Federal law enforcement agencies have launched a national cyber safety campaign to protect children from online predators.
The goal of Project iGuardian is to make children, parents and educators aware of online dangers and give them practical tips to keep youngsters safe. The message “Think Before You Click” is being delivered at schools and youth programs by federal and local law enforcement agents. The initiative is a joint program from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, a child advocacy organization.
“Project iGuardian helps kids, teens + parents be smart about online safety,” ICE announced via its Twitter account in September 2014.
Federal officials have said the online exploitation of children is an epidemic. In 2013, agents with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations opened in excess of 4,000 investigations into such cases. Just before details of Project iGuardian were unveiled in spring 2014, authorities announced the arrest of 14 men in connection with an illicit online network that investigators said included hundreds of young victims across the United States and in five other nations.
Project iGuardian uses trading cards and super hero-style characters, with names such as Safeguard and Highspeed, to convey the initiative’s safety message in an age-appropriate manner for children in grade school through the early teens.
Youngsters are cautioned against sharing pictures, personal information and user passwords with strangers. Teens, especially, are warned about the risks of meeting in person with strangers they met online.
In separate presentations, adults learn about resources and ways to monitor a child's daily online use. Possible signs of danger are gifts sent through the mail or phone calls from unknown numbers. These could indicate a predator is “grooming” a child for exploitation, authorities say. Parents also should take note if a child suddenly minimizes a computer screen or switches off the computer when they walk into the room.
According to the Homeland Security Investigations’ website, providing families and teachers “with information regarding the dangers of online environments and how to stay safe online can help prevent many instances of this crime.”