Tuesday 3 November 2015

Meeting strangers after Web chats: Kids 'need guidance'

A third of students who had meet-ups rated the encounters as slightly or very unpleasant: Poll
By Janice Tai and Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2015

"Don't talk to strangers" - that is what parents often tell their children. Yet children today are not only chatting with strangers online, but also meeting them in real life.

A poll of 2,500 upper primary and secondary school children found that a third of the older students and a tenth of the younger ones had met up with someone they had first encountered online in the past year.

About a third of the students who had these meet-ups rated the encounters as slightly or very unpleasant, meaning they would think twice about meeting the person again, or not meet the person a second time as negative things had happened.

"We did not ask them to specify why they were unpleasant as some may be uncomfortable sharing it but, anecdotally, we have heard cases of bullying, cheating scams and sexual predation," said Mr Chong Ee Jay, manager at Touch Cyber Wellness, a voluntary welfare group that teaches Internet safety.

The survey was done by Touch from January to May this year to better understand online behaviours among the young, especially befriending strangers online.

Mr Chong said they wanted to collect data on this issue as there have been cases reported in the news about online friends who turned out to be child sex predators.

In Singapore's worst case of sexual abuse of boys so far, a 31-year-old Malaysian engineer was sentenced to 30 years' jail and the maximum 24 strokes of the cane in March for sexually assaulting 31 boys, some as young as 11, whom he met online.

He used different identities to befriend the boys on Facebook and tricked some of them into thinking that they had mutual friends.

Digital media experts and counsellors say that while children are more socially savvy nowadays, they need more guidance on protecting themselves both online and offline as more young people take the interactions beyond their screens.

The Touch survey showed, for example, that the second-most-cited reason for young people meeting online friends face-to-face is to transact online purchases, after the top reason of making friends.

Correspondingly, social networking service Facebook and online marketplace Carousell were named by the children and teens as the top two platforms through which they got to know the people they eventually met. The other channels are online games, photo-sharing service Instagram or Twitter.

"With the proliferation of such platforms, it is easy for any ill-intentioned stranger to befriend someone on multiple sites to piece together all the information on the victim that would allow him to come up with a better strategy to target the person," said Mr Chong.

"For upper primary pupils, they are impressionable and may be unable to discern well enough to protect themselves," he added.

For example, he has managed cases where the person who went for the meeting does not match the description given or his online profile picture. These people may be sexual predators or scammers out to cheat the sellers by making off with the products without paying.

In other cases, a group of people turned up instead of an individual to bully the child and extort money from him.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said individuals sometimes turn out to be "a lot older than they said they were and they may want more than just to hold your hand".

"The danger is that the younger person is put in a compromising situation and it is hard for him or her to say no because they want to be socially accepted."

Mr Delane Lim, who heads Agape Group Holdings, a youth development organisation, said guidelines should be set for young people who want to meet people they have befriended online. "If anything, it's safer to go on group dates rather than one- to-one meet-ups," he said.

A student, who wanted to be known only as Ms Teo, said she started using OkCupid, an international dating app, two months ago to get to know more people.

"It is potentially dangerous - some guys have texted me for casual sex, and one of the friends I made told me that he had been blackmailed $2,000 for being shown a porn video when he agreed to video-call a person," she said. That is why she makes it a point not to give out information about herself easily.

Mr Chong said meeting online friends has become a cultural norm, so it would be more fruitful to get teachers and parents to guide young people than to stop these meetings.

"Cyber wellness and civics and moral education lessons in school must equip them with critical thinking skills in knowing what to do in different situations, and more channels, such as anonymous hotlines, must be set up for them to seek help beyond the police."


1. Meet the person in a public place such as an MRT station or shopping centre, where others have a full view of you.

2. Get a trusted friend to accompany you.

3. Keep your parents updated on your whereabouts and who you are meeting.

4. Take a photo or video of the meeting as it may serve as evidence, or help in identifying the perpetrator if things go wrong.

5. If the person makes you feel uncomfortable, talks about sex or tries to make you do something you are unwilling to do, walk away. You should block or ''unfriend'' this person online later and tell your parents about the exchange.

Girl selling phone online lured and fondled by man posing as student
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2015

She was an aspiring entrepreneur who enjoyed doing brisk business online.

Every day, 12-year-old Stella (not her real name) would strike up conversations with strangers who were eager to find out more about the items she was selling on online marketplace Carousell.

These were usually items such as game cards, stationery or old clothes, which helped her make about $50 a month.

In March this year, her parents got a new iPhone and gave her their old iPhone 4. Eager to make a quick buck, she listed it for sale online.

12-year-old girl selling phone on Carousell lured and fondled by man posing as student. str.sg/ZbKbSCREENGRAB: CAROUSELL
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, November 1, 2015

Within a few days, a user who said he was a secondary school student offered to buy the phone for $30 more than the price she listed.

They exchanged numbers and arranged to meet at a void deck near her house shortly after.

When she arrived, she saw that he was not a student but a man in his 20s who dyed his hair gold.

He brushed away her questions on his identity, saying he was just there to buy the phone.

As he checked the phone, he began making small talk and sexual advances towards her.

For instance, he started holding her hands and asked her if she would like to hang out with him.

When she refused, he threatened to leave with her phone. So she followed him to a nearby McDonald's, thinking she would go off after attempting to get her phone back.

Along the way, he fondled her and she decided to alert a passer-by about her situation. When the passer-by turned back and shouted at him, he took off with the phone.

Emotionally distraught, the girl went to school and spoke to the school counsellor.

Touch Cyber Wellness manager Chong Ee Jay, who related Stella's story to The Straits Times, also helped with the counselling.

"It was a painful lesson for her because she felt violated and her phone was gone," he said.

Stella still sells her goods on Carousell, but she now makes it a point to meet the buyers in public places, with her parents accompanying her.

Mr Chong said: "Sometimes young people have promising ideas, and we should not short-change their learning when engaging with new technologies. But proper guidance from mentors is essential."

More secondary students involved in 'sexting': Poll
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2015

A recent survey of 2,700 secondary school students found that the number of them engaging in "sexting" has doubled from a year ago.

It found that 4.2 per cent of upper secondary students and 1.9 per cent of lower secondary students had sent lewd messages, photos and videos, or posted risque content via their mobile phones. This is up from 2.3 per cent and 0.8 per cent respectively last year.

Said Mr Chong Ee Jay, manager of Touch Cyber Wellness, a voluntary welfare group that teaches Internet safety: "The sexting trend started in the United States and Britain in 2010. Two years ago, we started hearing about one-off cases here."

According to the survey conducted from January to May, more teens are aware of sexting and what it means.

About 71 per cent of upper secondary students and 53 per cent of lower secondary students said they understood the term, up from 62 per cent and 41 per cent respectively last year.

Mr Chong said he is concerned about the jump in the number of students involved in sexting, although the figures are still small.

"Many of these cases happen in the context of boy-girl relationships, not with strangers," he said.

"But we tell students that there's no guarantee of privacy for anything that is sent via tech devices, and there are consequences if the photos are leaked."

He recalled a case last year where a Secondary 4 girl was asked by her boyfriend to send him nude and provocative photos of herself.

"She wasn't comfortable with it but he reassured her that they were only for his own viewing," he said.

But the boy, who is also in Secondary 4 and at the same school, showed the photos to his friends, and the girl was called a "slut".

Mr Chong added: "At that age, teens are experimenting, and they are young and impressionable, especially in relationships.

"It could happen in the heat of the moment, but we remind students that their personal information can be used against them once it's out of their control."

Our TOUCH Cyber Wellness Manager Mr Chong Ee Jay was one of the panellist during an exclusive media engagement session...
Posted by TOUCH Cyber Wellness on Friday, October 30, 2015

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