Once online, officers must adhere to ICAC's rules of engagement in predator investigations. Included among these rules are: officers should not use their home computer, the computer must not be networked, and upon receiving inappropriate images, a specific protocol must be followed. For more information on ICAC's investigative guidelines, visit www.icactraining.org.
When corresponding with a predator, officers should mention their undercover age at least three times to eliminate claims of deception after an arrest has been made, notes McGinnis. He also encourages officials to allow potential offenders to add their online identity to their MySpace accounts, lending credibility to a case. Once arrested these individuals often deny contacting the officer, but if he or she accepted the officer as a friend, MySpace maintains a record of that.
MySpace offers other assistance to law enforcement officials, who can simply request the organization's Law Enforcement Investigators Guide, which sets up the proper way to handle a MySpace complaint from the police department. The guide, available by e-mailing LawEnforcement@MySpace.com, provides sample cover letters and a multitude of other information to help law enforcement collect the correct information.
"Law enforcement and parents need to know there's nothing MySpace won't do when it comes to protecting children," he says. "With appropriate paperwork, they will do whatever it takes to protect a child."
But perhaps the ultimate protection is to drive home the message to kids that the Internet is for "enhancing existing relationships, not making new ones," says Durkin. In the world of Internet socialization, never talking to strangers has never rang more true.