An "Amber Alert" was issued late last week for a 10-year-old Purcell girl who was last seen leaving for a rendezvous with a man she had "met" over the internet.

As of Friday afternoon, the police were still looking for the girl and the suspect, described as a 20- to 30-year old white male.

The girl was found dead Friday night in a Purcell apartment complex.

The internet has been a great educational tool for children, making a plethora of data and information available with just a few key strokes.

It has also proven to be a tool for sexual predators who troll the internet in hopes of striking up relationships with children.

No longer is the warning "don't talk to or take candy from strangers" the only advice parents need to give their kids. The internet has opened the world to kids and, unfortunately, has opened kids to the world.

The FBI offers the following tips to give parents insight into whether a child is at risk on-line.

• The child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night and participating in chat rooms.

• You find pornography on your child's computer.

• Your child receives phone calls from adults you don't know or is making calls to numbers you don't recognize.

• Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don't know.

• Your child quickly turns off the computer or changes the screen when you come into the room.

• Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.

• Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else.

Here are some tips, again from the FBI, on what you can do if you suspect your child in communicating on-line with a sexual predator.

• Talk to child openly about the dangers of computer predators. Stress that they should never arrange face-to-face meetings with someone they met online, they should never post their photo online or give out identifying information such as name, address, school, or phone number.

• Regularly review your child's internet history. If you don't know how to do that, get a computer-savvy friend to help you check what sites have been visited and e-mails exchanged.

• Get caller ID and take advantage of the service that most phone companies provide that allows you to block your number from appearing on someone else’s caller ID.

• Monitor your child's access to live, interactive computer sites such as chat rooms, instant messaging, forums, bulletin boards, and personal web pages such as Xanga and MySpace.

The FBI advises that if your child has been sexually solicited over the internet by someone who knows that your child is under 18 years of age, you should immediately contact your local or state law enforcement agency.

Authorities also urge you to keep the computer turned off in order to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use. Unless directed to do so by the law enforcement agency, you should not attempt to copy any of the images and/or text found on the computer.

Parents, you need to regular monitor your child's internet activity. It might not make you the most popular mom or dad, but you can sleep better at night knowing you've done as much as possible to keep them protected from these weasels.

Jerry Pittman is publisher of The Express-Star. You can e-mail him at jpittman@cnhi.com.

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