The advent of social media and smartphone technology has us more connected than ever. Unfortunately, technological advances often come with a dark side. Sexting and Cyberbullying are not just trendy terms for activities teens are engaging in… they are CRIMES. Both can lead to devastating consequences for the victim as well as the offender. Educate yourself and your children NOW before it’s too late!
“Cyberbullying” (R.S. 14:40.7) is defined as sending any type of electronic communication with the malicious intent to coerce, abuse, torment or intimidate someone under the age of 18. This can be in the form of phone calls, text messages, photos, videos, or even social media posts. Simply put, it is the act of “bullying” using an electronic device. Offenders could be sentenced to up to 6 months in prison, or fined $500, or both. When cyberbullying occurs at school, at a school function, or on the bus to school, the offender could face suspension or expulsion. Victims should report all instances of cyberbullying directly to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. A cyberbullying investigation can also lead to other charges:
Cyberstalking (R.S.14:40.3) – A person can be charged with this for repeated communication to threaten, terrify or harrass another person, OR knowingly allow another person to use your device to commit to the crime.
Online Impersonation – (R.S. 14:73.10) – This charge applies if the offender impersonates someone else online with the intent to harm, intimidate, threaten, or defraud. This would apply to creating an email, website, or social networking account in someone else’s name or simply posting, texting, or otherwise transmitting a message pretending to be someone else. If convicted as an adult, this crime carries a mandatory fine and prison time. Penalties can range from 10 days to six months in prison and a fine of $250 to $1,000.
Defamation (R.S. 14:47) – This charge is applied when someone expresses or transmits in any way a malicious message about the victim to someone else. This can include anything that would expose the victim hatred, ridicule, or contempt, or anything that would injure a person, business or association with others in their business. This charge carries a sentence of up to six months in prison, or a fine up to $500, or both.
The sexting law in Louisiana (R.S. 14:81.1.1) prohibits anyone younger than 17 from knowingly and voluntarily using a computer, cell phone, or other telecommunications device to transmit indecent images they take of themselves. It’s also a crime for anyone under 17 to possess or transmit an indecent image that was sent to them by any other person under 17 who took the image of himself or herself. So, it doesn’t matter whether you are sending or receiving the photo, or simply possess it, it’s still a crime. Any student caught sexting at school, on the way to school, or at a school function could be suspended or expelled. Anyone caught sexting, whether a juvenile or an adult, could also face other charges which carry more significant penalties.
Indecent Behavior with Juveniles (R.S. 14:81) – If anyone, adult or juvenile, engages in the act of sexting with a juvenile, and the age difference is greater than 2 years, this charge would also apply.
Pornography Involving Juveniles (R.S. 14:81.1) – This law makes it illegal to possess, produce, distribute or promote images or videos of juveniles engaged in any kind of sexual conduct. Most sexting crimes have the potential to fall into this category due to how “sexual conduct” is defined in this statute. While the definition includes obvious sexual acts, it also includes the lewd exhibition of genitals, which at the very least, could be considered in any sexting crimes.
What should I do?
If your child or another child you know is a victim of cyberbullying, sexting or child pornography, report it immediately to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office. If your child is a victim of any kind of bullying by other students during school, school functions, or while traveling to school, report it immediately to school officials.
Tips for parents
The most important tip for parents is to get involved in the lives of your children. Take an active interest in what they are doing online, on their phones, and on social media. Above all, talk to your children to ensure they understand the consequences of engaging in these activities.
- Become computer literate yourself!
- Set any household computers in plain sight and check internet history.
- Enforce and establish rules, including a time limit.
- Know your child(ren)’s friends.
- Safeguard all passwords and maintain access to your child(ren)’s devices and accounts. Randomly check your child(ren)’s email.
- Be wary of posting family photos.
- Use software to filter websites.
- Speak truthfully and frankly about the dangers of solicitation and pornography.
Instruct your children:
- never arrange a face-to-face meeting.
- never upload photos of themselves online to people they don’t know.
- never give out identifying information.
- never download pictures from an unknown source.
- never respond to suggestive messages.
- not everything you’re told online is true.
Identity theft (Louisiana R.S. 14:67.16) is the intentional use or possession or transfer or attempted use with fraudulent intent by any person of any personal identifying information of another person to obtain, possess, or transfer, whether contemporaneously or not, credit, money, goods, services, or any thing else of value without the authorization or consent of the other person.
Examples of Personal Identifiers:
Social Security Number Driver’s License Number
Checking Account Number Savings Account Number
Credit Card Number Debit Card Number
Electronic Identification Number Digital Signatures
Birth Certificate Mother’s Maiden Name
Armed Forces Identification Number Home Address/Phone Number
Methods of Identity Theft- thefts of purses or wallets — theft of mail — shoulder surfing — dumpster diving — computer intrusions — email or telephone scams — theft of documents/business records — use of skimmers — use of ATM traps — tampered POS terminals — phishing — necrolarceny.
- Keep only the items that you absolutely need in your purse or wallet. Do not carry your SSN or any credit or debit cards unnecessarily.
- Drop your outgoing mail in a secured post office receptacle, and if you use a private mailbox, check your incoming mail as soon as is practicable after the mail has been delivered. If you will be away from home for an extended period, ask the post office to hold your mail until your return.
- When using an ATM, punching in your PIN at a checkout counter, or using a calling card at a phone booth, use your body to shield the keypad in order to prevent shoulder surfers from viewing your personal identifying numbers.
- Shred your mail before you discard it. To significantly reduce the amount of unsolicited pre-approved credit card offers, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688). The three major credit bureaus use the same number to allow consumers to choose not to receive pre-screened credit offers. You can also notify the three major credit bureaus that you do not want your personal information shared for promotional purposes by writing to:
Equifax, Inc., Options, PO Box 740123, Atlanta, GA. 30374-0123
Experian, Consumer Opt-Out, 701 Experian Parkway, Allen, TX. 75013
TransUnion, Marketing List Opt Out, PO Box 97328, Jackson, MS. 39288-7328
- Additionally, you may opt out of receiving direct mail marketing from many national companies for five years by writing to Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY. 10512.
- Update your computer’s virus protection software regularly. Don’t download files from strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you don’t know. Use a firewall and a secure browser (software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the internet). Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you must, use a strong password, a combination of numbers and upper and lower case letters. Avoid using an automatic log-in feature that saves your user name and password. Delete any personal information stored on your computer before you dispose of it by using a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive and make your files unrecoverable. Read website privacy policies.
- Know that legitimate businesses do not contact consumers by telephone or email to request personal information. To be safe, assume that any business that asks you to provide personal information via telephone or email is attempting to perpetrate a fraud. You may contact the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce telemarketing calls at home by visiting www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1-888-382-1222 from the phone you wish to register. You may also opt out of receiving unsolicited email by completing the Direct Marketing Association’s online form at www.dmaconsumers.org/offemaillist.html.
- Your employer and some private businesses, such as doctor’s offices, banks, or finance companies, may request your SSN for wage and reporting purposes, credit checks, or for general record keeping. Before you provide this information, ask these questions: Why do you need it? How will it be used? How will you protect it from being stolen? What will happen if I don’t provide it to you? After receiving satisfactory answers, you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you should provide the requested information.
- Be ever vigilant when using your credit or debit cards in stores or restaurants. Keep a close eye on the device through which your card is passed and alert the store manager and police should you observe any employee run your card through two scanning devices. The first is necessary. The second is storing the information contained within the magnetic strip on your card for later decryption and use.
If an ATM machine does not accept your card after your first attempt, do not try again. If possible, notify the bank or go to another ATM machine. If your card becomes trapped inside an ATM machine, immediately notify the bank and/or call the toll-free customer service number to have your card cancelled. An identity thief may have installed an ATM trap to collect your card for later use.
Some identity thieves modify point of sale terminals to store the information contained on the magnetic strip of your debit or credit cards. It is nearly impossible for a consumer to know whether or not this is the case. Diligently monitor your account statements. If your bank or credit statements do not arrive on time, contact the statement issuer to ensure that your statements have not been rerouted to an alternate address as determined by the identity thief.
Phishing scams involve the mimicking of legitimate business websites to convince consumers to release their personal information. The phishers inform you that you need to update or validate your account information, or they may claim that there is a problem with your account that you must resolve. Do not divulge any of your personal information, and do not click on any links included in the body of any message asking for your personal information.
The dead are not immune to identity theft. In addition to providing the name and age of the deceased, most obituaries also provide the deceased’s date of birth, places of birth and death, parents’ names, including the mother’s maiden name, names of children, including the married names of daughters. Closing our dearly departed relative’s financial accounts is not usually very high on our list of things to do, so the identity thief has time to do a tremendous amount of damage, both to the account of the dead and to the relatives of the dead. You should consider limiting the amount of information posted in obituaries.
Effective July 1, 2005, Act Number 766 becomes law in the state of Louisiana. Act 766 provides for a security freeze, which is a notice placed on a consumer file at the request of the consumer that prohibits a credit reporting agency from releasing the consumer’s credit report or credit score without the express authorization of the consumer.
If you are victimized:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your reports carefully.
Call Equifax at 1-800-525-6285 and write PO Box 740241, Atlanta, GA. 30374-0241
Call Experian at 1-888-397-9742 and write PO Box 9532, Allen, TX. 75013
Call TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289 and write Fraud Victim Assistance Division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA. 92834-6790
-Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Ask the company to send you their fraud dispute form.
- You must notify the bank in a timely manner that your checks were lost or stolen. To do so, contact your bank, and call these major check verification companies:
Certegy, Inc. 1-800-437-5120
International Check Services 1-800-631-9656
You may also call SCAN at 1-800-262-7771 to learn if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name.
File a report with your local law enforcement agency.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: www.consumer.gov/idtheft or call 1-877-IDTHEFT
Tips on Organizing Your Case:
- Collect pertinent documentation, including debt collection letters, credit reports, notarized ID Theft affidavit, and any other evidence of fraudulent activity.
- Follow up in writing with all contacts you’ve made on the phone or in person. Use certified mail, return receipt requested.
- Keep copies of all correspondence or forms you send.
- Write down the names of anyone you speak with, what you were told, and the date the conversation occurred.
- Keep the originals of supporting documentation, like police reports, letters to and from creditors; send copies only.
- Set up a filing system for easy access to your paperwork.
- Keep old files even if you believe your case is closed.
Holiday Safety Tips
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards offers safety tips for consumers to protect themselves while shopping at stores and online. The Friday after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, is often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season which runs through Christmas Eve. During this time period, retail outlets traditionally offer significant sales and deals luring multitudes of consumers to their stores and websites. The large crowds at physical sites and people seeking the best deals online, attract criminals as well.
The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division will be conducting extra patrols in and around shopping centers and retail outlets throughout the parish during the busy holiday shopping season, but there are many ways consumers can protect themselves from becoming a victim. Sheriff Edwards offers these tips:
- Be smart about parking. Always lock your vehicle and ensure all windows are closed. Avoid driving at night, but when necessary, park in well-lit areas away from dumpsters or larger vehicles that can serve as hiding places for thieves or carjackers. Never hide a second set of keys in a vehicle, and never leave a vehicle running or unattended.
- Keep purchases out of sight. Hide purchases and store bags by keeping them in a trunk, or bring blankets and garbage bags to camouflage your gifts. Change parking locations each time you store purchases in your vehicle in case thieves are watching. Try making expensive purchases last giving thieves less opportunity to steal.
- Keep a secure hold on your purse, handbag and gifts, especially outside the store.Locate your keys before arriving at your vehicle, and never put bags down or on top of a vehicle to open a door. Do not make more purchases than you are able to carry. Never leave a purse unattended in a shopping cart.
- Only use ATMs in well-lit locations. Only use an ATM if necessary, and only withdraw the amount of cash needed. When possible, carry cash in your front pocket instead of your wallet or purse. Protect your PIN number at ATMs and registers by shielding the keypad from bystanders. Using a drive-up ATM is generally safest, but always remember to check your surroundings.
- Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. Con artists may try various ways to distract your attention with the intention of stealing your money or belongings. Be wary of anyone approaching you needing “quick cash” or offering you a large check for a smaller amount of cash. You’ll likely end up holding a bad check.
- Shop with a friend or relative, but leave children with a sitter. Criminals are more likely to target someone shopping alone than those with one or more people accompanying them. Children should be left with a sitter, though, as they could actually hinder your safety efforts by diverting your attention.
- Only make secure online transactions. When shopping online, check for a “secure” icon in the address bar when you begin the checkout process. The URL should begin with the letters “https”. Always begin an online shopping session by typing the address of the official website in the address bar instead of clicking on a link from another website or email. This will help avoid “phishing” sites and emails which often look like official sites but are used to steal your financial information.
- Ensure packages are delivered to a person. When having items shipped, choose a location where someone will be present in lieu of allowing packages to be left unattended. Most delivery companies will also offer the option of picking up the package at their facility.
- Save all receipts. If something is stolen, a receipt is often the easiest way to begin tracking the stolen item because it includes the time of checkout as well as pertinent information about the purchase. When making purchases online, save all correspondence and order confirmations.
Simply put: be aware of your surroundings. Following these tips will not only help protect yourself and your family, but you’ll make it easier to catch criminals and put them behind bars to prevent them from victimizing others. When it comes to scams, always remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Sheriff Edwards also reminds residents to take proper precautions to secure their homes, taking care to ensure gifts and merchandise are not visible from outside the residence. Vacationers should avoid posting social media updates revealing they are “leaving” or out of town. When possible, they should ask a neighbor, friend, or relative to check on the house each day, checking for mail and picking up newspapers to avoid the appearance that no one is home. Residents should also break down large boxes for high-value items so they can be stored in the garbage and not visible.
Halloween Safety Tips
Sheriff Daniel Edwards advises of Halloween tips in order to help keep trick-or-treaters safe. “We encourage adults to keep a close watch on children they are supervising, and report any incidents or suspicious activity to nearby patrolling deputies or by calling the Sheriff’s Office directly.”
Sheriff Edwards offers these Halloween safety tips for residents:
- Make your child’s costume distinguishable and safe. Ensure your child can easily walk in the costume and that the fabric is flame retardant. Use glow bracelets/sticks, reflective tape and flashlights. With store-bought costumes, change or add something to make your child distinguishable from others.
- Maintain proper supervision for your children. We strongly urge parents to supervise their own children. If you must entrust your child to another adult, obtain up-to-date contact information. If they are headed out with a group, make sure there is a buddy system in place.
- Stay off your smartphone. Adults should be ever-vigilant while supervising children, and no one should be walking along the roadside while looking down or distracted.
- Inspect all treats collected. Discard anything that is not sealed, has torn packaging, looks questionable, or may be a choking hazard.
- Talk to your children about safety. Remind them to walk (don’t run) on sidewalks or near the edge of the roadway – never in the center and always facing traffic. Remind them to stay in front of residences giving out candy and NEVER enter a residence. Have a plan for in case you and your child get separated.
Everyone should also prepare their homes for trick-or-treaters. Clear sidewalks and pathways of any obstacles, and put away anything children could trip over such as hoses, toys, or yard decorations. Turn on your lights so your property is well-lit, and replace any burnt bulbs prior to Halloween. Secure any pets so that they will not attack or frighten anyone.
Motorists are encouraged to keep travel to a minimum on Halloween night due to a high number of pedestrians on neighborhood streets. “If you must be on the road, please drive slowly and be alert for children, especially in residential areas,” said Sheriff Edwards. “Eliminate all driving distractions so you can concentrate on the road and your surroundings.”
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