A public forum slated for later this month will be presented to help keep children safe from predators on social media and gaming platforms.

That includes the case against Daniel T. Avetta who would engage in conversation with the victims, mostly 15- and 16-year-old boys, after “friending” them on Facebook posing as a woman named Jessica Gable. He would send stock pornographic photos he found on the internet to exchange for nude photographs of the teens.

Avetta, Catawissa, was scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in federal court on 12 felony convictions. The sentencing was rescheduled for Dec. 14. 

Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton said continuing education for parents is important because predators like Avetta continue to find new platforms for target children.

Online sexual predators continue to find new mediums to seek out victims, including social media platforms and video games. 

That’s why the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department is offering a presentation to inform parents about the latest applications used by children and teens, and how to protect them.

“Social Media and Your Children” will be held Tuesday, Nov. 20, at the Union High School theater. Sheriff’s office detectives will educate parents and guardians on the dangers that their children may face while online. It begins at 6:30 p.m.

“We encourage parents to attend this event,” said Pelton. “The dangers that children and teens face nowadays on the internet continue to grow.”

He added that the information is important because the platforms predators use to reach out to children are always evolving.

In the case against Avetta, detectives learned he manipulated one teen into performing sex acts in exchange for employment. 

The victim told deputies he met “Jessica” through Facebook and began a monthlong online relationship. He told authorities he never met her in person and only chatted through Facebook messenger.

Avetta, posing as Jessica, posted an employment ad on Facebook to take care of a sick man for $500 a week. The teen told Jessica he would take the job, which consisted of him taking care of Avetta who was “dying of cancer” in his home.

But it isn’t just Facebook where predators are lurking. 

Games popular among children — such as Fortnite — or seemingly innocuous sites like YouTube provide an avenue for predators to reach out to children and teens.

Detective Sgt. Jacob Walk, a member of the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, recently told The Missourian that the key to keeping children safe is knowing exactly what they do online.

He explained cases against predators targeting children of all ages have been increasing since 2013.

Presentation

Sheriff’s office staff will cover many issues facing children online, including sexting, cyber bullying, predators, exploitation and solicitation for drugs.

The presentation also will examine crimes in Franklin County, including the Avetta case. 

D.A.R.E. instructors will offer a separate presentation to children who attend the event with their parents.

Because children are getting phones and tablets at an earlier age, it is not uncommon for children 9 and younger to get a device.

Parents are encouraged to learn how their children’s devices work by simply googling them, or having their children show them.

Tips will be offered to parents, including setting time limits on when and how long children should be online.

Walk noted that parents should be keeping tabs on their children’s online activities through various social media sites. That includes messages among friends, knowing who they are friends with and who is contacting them.

He also suggests checking privacy settings on apps so they do not “geo tag” photos and posts. Through the phone’s GPS, a predator can know the exact location of a child in those instances.

Another tip is to be aware of surroundings. Anytime a video is shot through YouTube or similar sites, predators have the capability to record the video frame by frame. If their address, or a utility bill is in the background, predators know exactly where a potential victim lives.

Resources

Authorities suggest parents continue to educate themselves on new technology and new platforms. A useful tool can be found at www.kidsmartz.org, or through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website at www.missingkids.org.

The site offers guidelines and tips to protect children online, and in the real world. There also is a pledge parents can have their children sign setting parameters of their internet use.