Juvenile Crime Online
The same anonymity that shields the online predator from detection can also shield juveniles who choose to engage in criminal activity. Parents of children prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office often are amazed to learn their honor student has engaged in criminal activities online. Much like the kids who fall prey to Internet predators, juveniles who commit crime via the Internet spend too much unsupervised time online.
Unsupervised Young Internet Surfers Can Quickly Learn How To:
  • Steal identifying information on other people (such as credit card and Social Security numbers) to make online purchases, ruining the victim's good credit.
  • Join groups that steal or pirate copyrighted software.
  • Create bogus eBay accounts to sell non-existent merchandise.
  • Join criminal syndicates that give kids valid credit card numbers in exchange for accepting and forwarding stolen merchandise.
  • Hack into corporate servers and steal or destroy information.
  • Chat with members of hate groups or satanic cults and be lulled into their illegal activities.
  • Download copyrighted songs costing the music industry millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Parental Liability for Kids' Online Crime: "What I Don't Know Won't Hurt Me, Right?"

Even if you have no knowledge of what your child is doing on the Web, you can be held responsible if he or she is convicted of an Internet-related crime.

California Civil Code Section 1714.1 states that parents are held jointly and severally liable with the minor for the child's acts of willful misconduct resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage. To learn more about the law, click here.

Examples of several types of juvenile criminal activity in which parents could be held responsible - and in some cases have been held responsible - are listed below:
  • Your son creates a bogus eBay account and scams people out of thousands of dollars.
  • Your daughter downloads hundreds of songs and is caught. Wanting to make an example of her, a music label files suit. You could be held liable.
    Here are recent headlines from the Los Angeles Times.
    • Song Swappers Face the Music (September 9, 2003)
    • Music File-Sharing Flap: War Against Customers (May 2, 2003)
    • Music Industry Tries Fear as a Tactic to Stop Online Piracy (April 30, 2003)
    • Copyright Battle Now Turns to Other Fronts (April 26, 2003)
    • Music, Movie Companies Rebuffed in File-Sharing Suit (April 26, 2003)
    • Verizon Ordered to ID Song Swappers (April, 25, 2003)
  • Your son is selling CD-ROMs of pirated software or "Warez" to other kids at school at a fraction of the cost. Software companies file suit over the lost revenue. You could be held liable.
These are just a few examples of how the Internet conduct of an unsupervised young person can come back to haunt parents. Considering the consequences - heavy fines and other penalties - it makes sense for parents to monitor their children's Internet use.

Is Your Child Engaging in Online Crime?
Be on the lookout for clues that your child is engaged in online crime. Warning signs that your child may be engaged in illegal online activity include:
  • Your child uses the Internet excessively.
  • Your child is secretive about his or her online activities.
  • Your child turns off the computer or changes software applications when someone else enters the room.
  • Your child waits until other family members are asleep or away from home before going online.
  • Your child uses online accounts that you do not recognize or has multiple e-mail addresses.
  • You find software on the computer you did not purchase.
  • You find illegally obtained software on your computer.
  • You find credit card numbers on the computer that are not your own.
  • Your child has an eBay account when by law you must be 18 years of age to have one.
  • Your child receives unusual phone calls or packages or letters in the mail.
Preventing Your Child From Engaging in Online Crime

Concerned Web Parents
can protect their kids by doing the following:
  • Talk to your children about the crimes kids can commit online, emphasizing that such crimes are prosecuted and are accompanied by jail time and/or probation. A criminal record for a juvenile can be a life-altering experience, especially for those who may be applying to college or military academies.
  • Keep the computer in a family room so that you can monitor the Internet use. Tell your children that you have the right to monitor their computer use and that if you suspect there is a problem, you will randomly monitor their Internet activities.
  • Install an operating system that makes you the administrator, for example, Windows XP or Mac OS X. Create a password that will allow only you to control the computer's Internet settings, online content, and the software that can be installed. This is a very important step in monitoring your child's online activities, even when you are away from the home.
  • If you have an earlier version of Windows such as Windows 2000, Windows 98, or Windows NT and would like to know how to take control of your computer, do the following: Click "Start" on your taskbar, select "Help" when the new window opens, click on the "Index" tab, then type in the words user account. Follow the instructions provided to become the administrator.
Note: If you are unable to establish yourself as your computer's administrator after following the steps in the links above, then someone else has been designated as the administrator. If the administrator is your child, you can regain control of your computer through your child's user ID and password. Once you become the new administrator, you can control the Internet content and Web sites your child has access to.
  • Do not allow your child to have multiple e-mail accounts or create accounts without your knowledge. Insist that your children give you their e-mail and chat passwords. Internet accounts and primary screen names should be in your name.
  • Go online with your kids and find out who they chat with and prohibit the use of private chat rooms with people they don't know personally. Ask them about the people that are on their contact and/or buddy list.
  • Tell your child to let you know immediately if a stranger tries to make contact with them on the Web, whether through an Instant Message, chat room, or e-mail. The stranger may be an adult pretending to be a child, or an Internet con artist looking to recruit kids to do his online dirty work.
  • Tell your children they are not allowed to purchase or sell anything on the Internet without your consent. Nor may they create an auction house account because they are minors, and the law prohibits them from doing so.
  • Make sure your child knows never to divulge any personal information on the Internet, including his or her name, age, photos, gender, physical description, hobbies (especially illegal ones such as hacking, pirating, etc.), telephone number, address, etc. The Internet is a place where children can quickly be recruited to join fraudulent auction house rings, hacker clubs, and other criminal syndicates.
  • Set rules as to what sites your children are allowed to visit and which ones they are not. Be on the lookout for sites where kids can go to illegally download software, and watch for "hacking" sites that teach people how to infiltrate business and government computer systems.
  • Set time limits on their computer use. Children who spend substantially more time in front of the computer than they do interacting with their friends in person or on the phone may be prone to take part in criminal online activity. Do not let your children's Internet identity define who they are. Kids need real world social outlets.
  • Do not allow your children to chat (send Instant Messages) while doing homework.
  • Consider purchasing third-party filtering software such as Cyberpatrol or NetNanny. You should be able to find software that meets your needs at most software electronics stores.
  • Become familiar with the Web browser your kids use, and restrict the type of content (violence, sex, and language) that can be viewed.
Kids Hurting Kids on the Internet
Kids too often use the Internet to engage in personal verbal attacks and other activities aimed at hurting peers. The Web provides another way to bully, spread vicious rumors, or harass others. Young people can verbally attack someone through e-mail and by posting messages about an individual on a Web page. In extreme cases, such as when the language threatens someone's life or is aimed at a specific person because of that individual's ethnicity, race, religion, or sexual preference, that conduct may be prosecuted.

But even when online speech is protected under the First Amendment, it can still hurt the intended target. Children who are repeatedly bullied or harassed by their peers suffer emotional anguish that sometimes manifests itself in violence toward others. Parents who do not approve of their children picking on other kids at school should be equally concerned about their children engaging in such behavior over the Internet.

Curbing Online Attacks on Others
If you find out your child is bullying someone through e-mails or is defaming people through Web page postings, consider doing the following:
  • Ask your child why he or she is engaging in hurtful behavior.
  • Explain why such conduct is inappropriate and how it could have negative consequences, including lawsuits and even criminal prosecution in some cases.
  • Get the e-mail address of the individual your child is harassing, and ask that person to contact you if it ever happens again.
Tell your child that continuing with hurtful online activities will result in negative consequences, including the loss of computer privileges.

For Kids Only: Pledge to Be an Honest Web Surfer
Engaging in illegal activities can hurt you and members of your family. Perpetrators of Internet crimes are easily traceable, thanks to sophisticated tracking tools used by law enforcement and Internet companies that are at risk for product theft. If you are committing online crime, getting caught is only a matter of time.

Make a pledge not to abuse your Internet privileges. You can be an Honest Web Surfer by promising to follow the Code of Conduct for Honest Web Surfers:
  • I will talk to my parents about what I'm doing online and discuss with them the Web sites I'm visiting.
  • I promise not to talk to people whom I do not know, and I promise I will never give any stranger my telephone number or address.
  • I promise not to add anyone to my IM buddy list that I met in a chat room because I do not know if they are who they claim to be.
  • I promise to immediately let my parents or guardian know if a stranger tries to contact me while online, whether by e-mail or an Instant Message.
  • I promise not to surf sites that are bad for me¬†- including sex sites, hate sites, or sites that talk about violence or drugs.
  • I will not sabotage my parents' ability to be the administrator of our computer.
  • For my own safety, I will give my online passwords to my parents if they ask for them.
  • I will never agree to meet anyone with whom I become acquainted online.
  • I promise not to download any music that my parents or I have not purchased or was not available for free.
  • I will never hack into and/or destroy any computer system.
  • I promise not to create any business or auction any goods online, either directly or for someone else.
  • I will never make purchases using someone else's credit card. That is a crime.
  • For my own safety, I will not chat with any of the following individuals: hackers, bootlegged-software peddlers, and members of hate groups or religious cults. They can expose me to danger and illegal activity.
  • I will not use the Internet to threaten, harass, or bully anyone. I will not participate in e-mail attacks on others, and I promise not to post messages damaging to another person's reputation.
  • I agree to follow these rules because I care about what may happen to me, to my parents, to other persons, and to my country.
You can also click here to download and print a copy of the Honest Web Surfer's Pledge.