On the Beat column with Supt Mark Khan - keeping youngsters safe online

Superintendent Mark Khan is North Yorkshire Police's head of cybercrime.
Superintendent Mark Khan is North Yorkshire Police's head of cybercrime.

The threat to our online safety is continuing to grow, as criminals search for different ways to use the internet to commit crime. Many of us may know how to protect ourselves online – our personal information, our finances and our purchases.

We make sure we have downloaded security software and checked that websites are secure, and use strong passwords.

The 'Keep it to your Selfie' campaign.

The 'Keep it to your Selfie' campaign.

But what about those who are more vulnerable to online criminals because they don’t even realise they are at risk?

The biggest threat to young people on the internet is being targeted by online paedophiles. Online predators take advantage of young people being so active on social media and chat sites and use techniques to engage with their victims and trick them in order to groom them and exploit them.

Figures for cyber-enabled sexual crimes against a person aged 17 or under has seen an increase this year of 23%.

In 2017, there were 91 crimes recorded between 1 January and 31 December.

So far in 2018, there have been 112.

We need to take every opportunity to highlight the dangers to them and promote the importance of staying safe online. In line with this, North Yorkshire Police re-launched its Keep it to your Selfie campaign during October half term, when young people were off school and spending more time online. The campaign centres around three videos which encourage boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18 to think before they post images and information online.

Whether you are a parent or carer, auntie, uncle, grandparent, friend, or a professional who works with children, we all need to talk to the young people in our lives about their online activity. We need them to really question before sharing any personal information with contacts on apps and chat sites – Do I really know who this person is? Have I ever met this person? Could this person be pretending to be someone else to try and get me to do something I don’t really want to do?

My advice would always be do not share anything if you are not 100% sure the person you are talking to is genuine. And never, ever, share pictures of yourself which could compromise your safety or your dignity – not even with people you know, because you never know where those pictures will end up. And once something is on the internet, it stays there forever.

I encourage anyone who thinks their child or a child they know has been targeted online, to report it to the police.

We understand sometime that young victims can feel embarrassed or ashamed in coming forward with information because of what they might have shared online.

I want to reassure those people that we have trained and experienced officers who will help anyone who reports this type of crime.

North Yorkshire Police has recently bolstered its resources to tackle online child sexual exploitation. The force now has a specialist Online Abuse Team working across the county to identify and support investigations into online child abuse.

The team focuses on investigations relating to images of child abuse.

The team works alongside the Cybercrime Unit which was created in 2015.

Anyone with any concerns about someone’s behaviour online should contact police on 101.

Every report to us is treated in confidence and with professionalism.