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Avoiding dangers in chatrooms

Children are being told not to give out their personal details online

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• Always check that your parent/carer is happy for you to enter a chatroom. 
• Sign up using a nickname. 
• Don't give out your real name, email address, age, phone number, address, school or gender. 
• Leave a chatroom the moment anything worries you.  
• Let your parent/carer know what's up and report it to the chat service provider. Save any conversations that you think could prove someone is bullying or harassing you. 
• Never arrange to meet anyone in the real world, unless your parent/carer agrees to come with you.  
Do Internet chatrooms need more regulation?

LONDON, England -- The case of a 12-year old British schoolgirl who ran away with a U.S. Marine she met over the Internet highlights the dangers of Internet chatrooms for children, experts say.

Shevaun Pennington and Toby Studabaker, 31, had been corresponding for some time via e-mail and letter, police said.

They flew from the UK to Paris on Saturday and were missing for four days in continental Europe before Studabaker was arrested in Germany on Wednesday. Shevaun was found by police on the same day and reunited with her parents near Manchester. (Full story)

The incident triggered warnings from child protection groups of the dangers of allowing children to use Internet chatrooms to communicate with people they do not know.

The NCH, one of Britain's leading children's charities, has said parents should take the time to go through rules for Internet use with their children.

They suggest children should not enter a chatroom without a parent's consent.

Once inside a chatroom, it is always a good idea to sign on using a nickname and at no time should you use your real name or identify your gender.

If something worries you leave the chatroom, tell a parent and report it to the chat service provider.

"Save any conversations that you think would prove someone has been bulling or harassing you," the NCH says.

"Never arrange to meet anyone in the real world who you only know online, unless your parent/carer does agree and come with you."

Earlier this year the British government said Internet chat room operators should provide children with virtual panic buttons to help protect them from online pedophiles.

The recommendation was part of a campaign intended to help minimize the risks faced by children using the Web. (Full story)

An increasing number of predatory paedophiles have used chatrooms to "groom" youngsters for sexual abuse.

A 35-year-old train driver was jailed earlier this year for six years for committing a catalogue of sexual offences against a young girl he befriended via the Internet.

The government established a Child Protection on the Internet task force in March 2001.

The task force proposed the development of a criminal offence to tackle the "grooming" of children by paedophiles on and offline. Such a law would enable the prosecution of a person at an early stage before a sexual offence is actually committed.

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