NICOSIA - An internet watchdog is warning the public not to meet strangers they have only had contact with online as police continue to investigate a case of alleged sexual assault of two underage girls by two adult men.
The victims were allegedly raped after agreeing to meet a man who previously groomed one of them on a social networking site.
Speaking to The Cyprus Weekly, Helpline Coordinator of Cyberethics Iliada Spyrou said internet users should never meet anyone they have only had online contact with unless they are certain they know who they are.
“Cyberethics receives frequent complaints regarding fake profiles on social networking sites such as Facebook and Ask.fm which are becoming increasing popular in Cyprus.”
Spyrou warned that unscrupulous people can use fake accounts to take advantage of internet users online or lure them into meeting in real life.
“Internet users should always confirm that the people they are chatting with are who they say they are. And if someone suspects they have received a friend request from someone using a fake profile they should immediately report it to the authorities.”
According to Spyrou, parents too should play their part and ensure they know exactly what their children are up to when surfing the net
“Young people must be constantly reminded against publishing too much information about themselves on the internet,” said Spyrou.
“The most important thing is that children are aware that people are not always who they say they are online.”
The warnings come after two men aged 57 and 35 were remanded in custody on Thursday on suspicion of raping two teenage girls. They were arrested after the 15-year-old alleged victim said she and a 14-year-old girl were sexually assaulted by the 35-year-old at his Nicosia flat after having chatted with him online. The suspect is then said to have driven the girls to another flat in Larnaca where they were subjected to a second assault which a 59-year-old businessman also took part in.
Cyberethics was also critical of the media for publishing photographs of the four-year-old son of a notorious former convict who led police on a six day manhunt until he was captured on Tuesday.
“We consider such actions to be unethical and are asking the media to show respect and sensitivity in the case of minors.”
The organisation is urging users of social networking sites to review their privacy settings and avoid posting photographs of minors on their personal pages all together.
It also suggests that personal photographs should be mailed to family members and friends rather than posted.
Spyrou reminded that members of the public are welcome to contact Cyberethics for general online privacy information or to report internet-based offences.
“We are here to answer questions and help anyone regarding problems they may be having with the internet or with social networking.”
Non-governmental organisation Hope For Children yesterday said the case highlights the imminent need for the authorities to review child protection legislation.
“The increased use of the internet, especially among children and adolescents, has led to the phenomenon of grooming and solicitation via the Internet internationally in recent years and some countries have already criminalised such conduct.”
For further information on internet protection visit: www.cyberethics.info or call the organisation’s helpline on: 22 674747.