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Hancock students learn how to protect themselves online | News, Sports, Jobs

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HANCOCK — High school and middle school students on Thursday received presentations from the Michigan State Police Computer Crimes Unit’s (CCU) Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force on how they can protect themselves against online cyber bullies, perpetrators, and others who seek the harm of others .

The presenters explained to the middle school students not to share private or personal information on the internet that perpetrators and hackers find and take possession of for any number of reasons, including blackmail, sextortion and bullying, just to name a few examples.

“Never give out identifying information such as your name, home address, school name or telephone number in a public message,” one of the CCU members advised, “such as in a chat room or on a bulletin board.”

Supt. Steve Patchin said the school tries to present similar programs every year, but has been unable to do the past couple of years, because of the COVID lockdowns.

“That’s when we needed it,” he said, adding that now that classes are back in face-to-face session, the school has safeguards in place, but now there are students who have cell phones and they are getting them at younger ages.

“We only control a certain portion of the day compared to the rest of the day that they have access to the internet,” Patchin said.

Patchin said right now parents are very unsure of this. Thursday’s presentation was the student portion of the program. Patchin is currently working with the CCU team to return to Hancock for a parent evening.

“Parents think ‘it could never happen to my kid,’ right?” said Patchin, “but that’s the dangerous component of when things could happen.” And things happen. In fact, sextortion is a present-day reality for one in seven children online, including children in the Upper Peninsula.

Patchin said the unit became highly visible throughout the Upper Peninsula after a 17-year-old Marquette High School student took his own life in March 2022, after falling victim to internet extortion.

In that case, the male student was described by the Marquette County Sheriff, Greg Zyburt, as very popular, he was athletic and looked like the Homecoming King.

During the presentation at Hancock, Detective/Sgt. Nichole Dyson told the students that those are the types of student perpetrators look for.

The posting of inappropriate photographs was another topic the CCU team discussed and emphasized.

“Once you hit ‘send,’ Dyson told the students, “you can’t ever get that picture back. You lose all control of it.”

Dyson explained that once a photograph enters cyberspace, anyone can see it, including friends, parents and other family members.

Internet crimes against children have both victims in the Upper Peninsula and perpetrators. On Feb. 4, 2022, the Marquette Mining Journal reported the the arrest of a Marquette County man in regard to alleged child pornography.

The arrest came after a lengthy investigation that led the Marquette County Prosecutor’s Office to authorize a 30-count warrant. The charges were aggravated possession of child sexually abusive material, 10 counts; child sexually abusive activity, five counts; and using a computer to commit a crime, 15 counts. Again, on June 18, the Mining Journal reported that the Michigan State Police announced that they had charged a 59-year-old Marquette man with multiple counts of child sexually abusive material and using computers to commit a crime.

In the investigation that led to the arrest the MSP CCU, Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force was the lead agency, along with the Marquette Police Department. MSP CCU has oversight over the statewide Michigan Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force. The task force includes over 50 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies who work together to investigate offenders who use the internet, online communication systems, or computer technology to sexually exploit children.

Dyson also discussed cyberbullying with the students. She began asking the students if they have to like everybody.

“You don’t have to like everybody,” she said, “but do you have to be respectful to everybody?” The majority of the students answered yes. “It’s like the old saying,” she continued, “if you can’t find anything nice to say, don’t say anything. If you can’t find anything respectful to say, push on.”

In her job, she said, she sees the after-effects of cyberbullying. Words can hurt, and sometimes people remember, even after 20 years, the exact words that were used that inflicted the pain.

The team then told the students that in Michigan, cyberbullying is illegal and if convicted the bully can face 90 + days in jail and a fine as much $500.

The highlights of the presentation to both the high school and the middle school students were basic suggestions they can do to protect themselves from online predators:

• Never post or trade personal pictures.

• Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location.

• Use only a screen name and don’t share passwords (other than with parents).

• Never agree to get together in person with anyone online without parent approval and/or supervision.

• Never respond to a threatening email, message, post, or text.

• Always tell a parent or other trusted adult about any communication or conversation that was scary or hurtful.

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