A judge sentenced a 24-year-old man to more than four years in state prison, likening the man’s behavior to a “peeping Tom”.  The man pled guilty earlier this year to charges that included computer intrusion, false impersonation and possession of child pornography.  He trolled through Facebook pages looking for email accounts and then gleaned enough personal information from postings to answer basic security questions, such as the name of an elementary school or a favorite color.  After he changed passwords and took over accounts, the California man searched his victim’s email account folders looking for compromising photos, which he then distributed publicly and used, in some instances, to coerce additional pictures and videos from his victims, some of whom were minors.

The case illustrates a few key points we should all take note of:

First: Use strict privacy settings.  Facebook actually has privacy settings built into the site that you and your children should be using.  Go into your account information, click on “Privacy Settings” and make sure that ALL of your information can only be viewed by “Friends Only”.  This means peeping Toms won’t be able to peep at any information, from your email account information to that great new profile pic you just posted.

Second:  Choose your own security question.  Usually when you set up an account online you will be given the option to answer a basic security question in the event you lose your password to your account.  Many accounts now allow you to write your own question, which you should definitely do, and remember to be creative.

Third: Only become online “friends” with people you know in the offline world.   It’s not always easy to verify identity in the online world.  You and your kids should only be connected to people you know and trust in your offline lives.  Parents: take time to sit down with your kids and ask them how they know every person they are online friends with through their Facebook account.

Fourth:  Protect your personal information.  Identity thieves, hackers, cyberbullies, online predators (which we’ll talk more about later this week) and individuals with mal-intent like this man from California will seek to piece together information about you or your kids to victimize you.  Remind your kids never to post financial information, personal family information, sensitive emotional situations or anything that someone could use to harm them.

Fifth: Don’t sext.  As we’ve seen with football players, politicians and an unfortunately high number of teens in the past year, it’s never really a good idea to take or send a nude or semi-nude photo.  Sexts will often be shared with individuals beyond the intended recipient, and any child or adult involved with this behavior can be charged for creating, distributing and possessing of child pornography.

Sixth: Don’t give into a bully.  Remind your kids that if anyone is harassing them or seeking personal information about them online to come to you.

Seventh:  Don’t be a “peeping Tom”.  Let’s face it, if you are reading this and you have struggled with pornography or sex addiction, you may have started watching hidden-camera style videos of women undressing or engaging in sexual acts.  You may just sift through suggestive profile pictures and use that for sexual pleasure.  You may have even engaged in the creation of this type of pornography or started looking into hotel or home windows trying to catch someone undressing.  Stop.  You could wind up in big trouble.  What we so often see with porn and sex addicts is that their behavior starts small and then explodes into something that can change the course of your life in a negative direction, as it did with this man in California.