FYLDE coast schoolchildren are making themselves “easy prey” for paedophiles by “tagging” themselves at locations via social networking sites, it was today claimed.
Youngsters are also adding strangers to their ‘friends’ list on Facebook as kudos is enhanced by having the highest number of online friends.
These shocking scenarios have led former police officer Jo Schumacher to launch a new Fylde coast training programme called Net Respect to teach children and adults to be aware of dangers on the internet.
Miss Schumacher, an ambassador for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, said the practice of tagging was a concern.
She said: “From a predatory perspective it allows people to see where they are and where they are living. There is too much of it going on.
“It’s dangerous and the consequences can be devastating.
“Pictures of young girls in sexual poses. For sexual predators this is heaven.
“Virtual lives require a new set of social skills. We need to teach children what is appropriate.”
Miss Schumacher, a former Merseyside police officer, offers programmes for schools where she holds sessions with children, teachers and parents about dangerous situations online.
She also runs a Saturday school at her Queen Street office where she teaches 14 to 19-year-olds how to wear appropriate make-up and not to sexualise themselves.
Net Respect was founded in Merseyside in 2008 and launched in Blackpool this week.
According to CEOP, which runs the Thinkuknow programme to raise awareness of online risks, three in four children aged 12 to 15 already have a Facebook profile and one in four aged 8 to 12 have an online profile – despite the minimum Facebook age being 13.
Det Insp Tony Baxter, head of the public protection unit at Blackpool, said police have links to local schools through the Awaken project.
He said: “There is an inherent danger in engaging with anyone in the virtual world who you don’t know in the real world. You don’t know anything about them. You only know what they are telling you.
“We do group work and one to one sessions with children to teach them about internet safety.
“All the schools in Blackpool have trained representatives. Clearly the world wide web is here to stay. It’s extremely powerful and sadly some people use it for other means. I would strongly advise against meeting anyone in the real world who you have met in the virtual world.”
Last month a pervert used Facebook to encourage a young Lancashire girl to look out of her bedroom window – before indecently exposing himself.
Depraved Sean Wheddon, 37, was jailed for four months after he admitted contacting an 11-year-old girl from St Helens via the social networking site.
Wheddon, of Sutton Heath, has a previous conviction for two similar offences dating back to 2001.
There have been two recent examples of Blackpool paedophiles being caught by police posing as children in online chat rooms.
A spokesman for Facebook said: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people who use Facebook, and we’ve worked hard to build extensive safety and reporting tools into the site.
“However, we can all do more to stay safe – and we encourage people young and old to learn more about online safety using our Family Safety Centre at facebook.com/safety.”