The Reality of Chat Rooms

By: Karen Kostko
By: Karen Kostko

As I logged into a Yahoo chat room, I really wasn't prepared for what I was about to find out. The first step was to create an online profile. My screen name was "Karen7saw" and I posed as a 14-year-old girl, chatting at school.

It didn't take long to realize the dangers. Predators were coming out of the woodwork in seconds, literally seconds. I could not believe what I was reading and seeing. Special agent Eric Szatkowski was not surprised with the results. He says he witnesses this stuff on a daily basis.

"This stuff is going on everyday with kids as young as nine, ten, eleven years old," Szatkowski says.

It doesn't take much for a child to be preyed upon. Szatkowski says that kids just have to be curious, have access to a computer, and not have any adult supervision.

"Every parent that has Internet access in their house period potentially can have their child victimized," he says.

Szatkowski investigates computer crimes across the state of Wisconsin. He goes undercover posing as a teenager. In the last four years, Szatkowski has arrested over sixty predators, men and women as young as 18 and as old as 60.

"I had one guy from New York City thinking I was a 13-year-old girl buy me a round trip ticket with Midwest Airlines to fly out and have a weekend of sex with him,"" Szatkowski says.

He says incidents such as offers to trips happen all the time. Although there are 36 task forces to help put predators behind bars, the problem is so wide spread that it's impossible to catch them all.

"I like to compare it to drug investigations, you can take off one dope dealer and there's usually 10 or 20 more that's gonna fill his shoes," he said.

Here are some Seven On Your Side Tips to keep your child safe from online predators.

  • Keep your children out of chat rooms
  • Supervise their computer use
  • Install filters
  • Be aware of who their friends are and what they're doing
  • Do not keep a computer in your child's room
  • Talk with your children about the dangers of chat rooms

If you or one of your children become a victim of a computer crime, it is very important to contact local authorities. Here are some helpful educational websites. Here you will find stories of chat room victims and more ways to stay safe.