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Gardaí concerned about children who 'live online but don't realise the dangers'

The head of the garda cyber crime bureau says under-reporting is a “huge problem” particularly in cases where the victim has been personally compromised.

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THE HEAD OF the Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau has said more work needs to be done to educate children and teenagers about the consequences of their actions online.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Detective Superintendent Pat Ryan said the younger generation “tends to be a little bit more vulnerable” to harassment and exploitation online.

“They live online, but I don’t think they fully realise the consequences of their actions online. The big issue is once something is posted online, that’s it. It can be shared, it can cross platforms, it can go anywhere.”

A survey by Cybersafe Ireland released in September found 43% of children aged between eight and 13 are talking to people they have never met in real life on social media and gaming platforms. 

The survey also found 59% of teachers have dealt with online safety incidences in the classroom. Of the teachers who spoke to the charity for the survey, 52% said they did not feel equipped to teach online safety messages in the classroom.

“Education, especially among the younger generation, is really important,” Ryan said.

He said the Garda Schools Programme is currently being upgraded in terms of cyber safety and a number of new modules are to be rolled out next year covering cyberbullying, online harassment and the impact their online actions can have. 

In the online world, you actually don’t know who you’re dealing with, who you’re talking to. And someone could be your friend but it could be a fake account set up by somebody.

“I think we all have a part to play when it comes to the younger generation, especially parents. They tend to go online an awful lot younger nowadays, so we need to be very careful.”

Detective Superintendent Ryan said adults need to be open to discussing the dangers with children and should reassure them about speaking up if they come across something that makes them uncomfortable. 

He said under-reporting in cybercrime is a “huge issue”, particularly in cases where the victim has been personally compromised. 

romance scam

In what have become known as ‘romance scams’, criminals are now using dating websites and apps as well as social media platforms to obtain intimate pictures of people so they can blackmail them, or to gain the victim’s trust so they will send them money, gifts or their bank account details. 

“People do feel embarrassed, and all I can say is that there is help available,” Ryan said. 

“They will be taken seriously and their complaint will be fully investigated. It’s important that people keep full records and not delete their accounts – this greatly assists An Garda Síochána in investigations.

“It’s important to note as well that we will use whatever legislation is at our disposal to enforce the law when it comes to any sort of online harassment.”

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