Attorney General Abbott Observes National Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Month
AG warns Texas teens about social and legal dangers of sexting
AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today warned Texas teens and parents about the dangers of sexting. Attorney General Abbott’s comments came during a visit to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (NTDAH). Based in Austin, NTDAH offers troubled teens the only 24-hour help line in the country where trained teen advocates counsel fellow teens about digital harassment.
Attorney General Abbott also encouraged Texas teens to contact NTDAH when they encounter peer pressure to participate in sexting. Sexting is the emerging practice of teens electronically sending sexually explicit messages or images, primarily between cell phones. Attorney General Abbott, as part of National Teen Dating Violence & Prevention Month, warned young Texans and their families that sexting can lead to embarrassment, regret, and even legal dangers, including possible prison time.
“Fortunately, NTDAH and its trained teen advocates are working to counsel young Texans and help fellow teens learn to avoid the peer pressure, shame and damages associated with sexting,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Young Texans should never send a revealing or explicit picture of themselves. Once an image has been sent, it cannot be controlled. A single instance of bad judgment can lead to long-term regret, embarrassment or worse. Anyone who possesses sexually suggestive pictures of a minor faces criminal investigation and up to 10 years in prison.”
Attorney General Abbott reminded young Texans that a message’s sender cannot control the message’s distribution. A recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that nearly 20 percent of sexting recipients have passed the image to a third person – who the original sender may or may not know. Suggestive photographs also can be transferred to a computer, posted on public Web sites or printed and distributed.
Before pressing “Send,” teens should consider five tips:
- Do not assume anything sent or posted is going to remain private.
- Anything sent or posted in cyberspace will never truly go away.
- Do not give in to the pressure to do something that causes discomfort, even in cyberspace.
- Consider the recipient’s reaction.
- Nothing is truly anonymous.
Attorney General Abbott added: “Growing up can be a difficult learning process, so it is important for parents, counselors and even fellow students to help prevent teenagers from making bad decisions. Often, it helps to remind someone about consequences – which in the case of sexting can range from humiliation to suspension from school, bans on athletic participation, job loss or college scholarship revocation. We’re asking young Texans to think twice before sexting – but don’t take it from us, just ask a fellow teen by calling NTDAH.”
The most important source of prevention and education is active parenting. Texas parents must have frank conversations with their children about the potential for embarrassment and the legal ramifications of sexting. If teens do not want a photo or text message to fall into the wrong hands – including strangers, potential employers, teachers or college admission officers – they should not send it.
Attorney General Abbott concluded: “No teenager should succumb to peer pressure and be convinced that sexting is harmless or okay. It is not. When you are young, it is sometimes hard to understand the lasting implications of your actions, but the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline can provide our children with the positive encouragement and guidance they need to respond to these challenges.”
Law Enforcement Update Dangerous Ramifications Of Sexting
Teenage Texans’ use of text messaging and camera-equipped cell phones has led to an alarming new practice: sexting.
Sexting is the practice of teenagers sending sexually explicit messages or images electronically, primarily between mobile phones. Technological improvements that are now standard on many mobile phones allow teenagers to easily distribute photographs and videos to boyfriends, girlfriends and friends. Some young Texans are even sexting to strangers they have only met online.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy surveyed 1,300 teenagers about sexting and found troubling results:
• 71 percent of teen girls and 67 percent of teen boys who have sent or posted sexually suggestive content say they have sent it to a boyfriend or girlfriend.
• 15 percent of teens who have sent or posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves say they have done so to someone they only knew online.
• 44 percent of both teen girls and teen boys say it is common for sexually suggestive text messages to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.
The social danger for teenagers is that the message sender has no control of its distribution. Nearly 20 percent of sexting recipients have passed the image to someone else who the sender may or may not know. Suggestive photographs easily can be downloaded to a computer, posted on public Web sites or printed and distributed.
Unintentional circulation of inappropriate images can lead to suspensions from school or athletic participation and cause embarrassment. Compromising photos can hinder teens’ attempts to get into college, receive scholarships or gain employment.
More importantly, sexting can lead law enforcement to confiscate communication devices and cause other serious legal problems. One in five teens surveyed say they have sexted despite the fact that most of them knew it was a crime.
The owner of a computer or cell phone containing pictures of nude or semi-nude minors can be investigated and prosecuted on felony child pornography charges.
Teenagers in possession of sexually suggestive images of classmates or companions under 18 could face up to 10 years in prison.
Clearly, this dangerous technological trend can haunt children for years, and it is impacting schools and communities statewide. Of course, investigators and prosecutors consider the circumstances of each case before deciding whether – and which – charges charges may apply. By the time law enforcement has gotten involved, however, someone has already gotten hurt. Education and active parenting present the best way to ensure children avoid this dangerous activity.
Parents must have frank conversations with their children about the potential for embarrassment and the legal ramifications of sexting. If teens do not want a photo or text message to fall into the wrong hands – including strangers, potential employers, teachers or college admission officers – they should not send it. A lack of privacy can put them at risk.
Teens, parents, teachers and law enforcement authorities must keep an open line of communication to combat sexting – which is why our Cyber Crimes Unit officers criss-cross the state speaking to students and parents about Internet and wireless communication safety.
Parents, law enforcement officers and others who have questions or want more information about protecting children should visit our Web site, www.texasattorneygeneral.gov. Together, we must work to keep young Texans safe from harm.
Milestone $1 Billion Reached by Texas Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund
Since 1979, Texas crime victims and their families have received $1 billion to help cover medical costs and crime-related expenses
AUSTIN – The Texas Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund, which is administered by the Office of the Attorney General, has distributed $1 billion in financial assistance to crime victims and their families since its creation in 1979.
The Fund receives its money from fees, court costs and restitution paid by those convicted of a felony or misdemeanor in a state, county or municipal court. When eligible victims and their families have exhausted all other means of financial support, the Fund helps offset the expenses that stem from violent crime.
“With $1 billion in awards distributed, the Texas Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund has helped victims and their families get the financial assistance they need to help rebuild their lives,” Attorney General Abbott said. “The Office of the Attorney General continues to work cooperatively with local law enforcement, service providers and advocacy organizations to inform crime victims about the Fund and respond to their needs. Together, we will continue working to help crime victims down the path to healing and recovery.”
Since December 2002, the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Services Division provided more than $500 million from the Fund to help victims pay for medical and out-of-pocket emergency expenses and other costs associated with the crimes committed against them. In addition to the money distributed from the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund, the OAG also distributed more than $300 million in grants to nonprofits and victim advocacy organizations since 2002. These state and local organizations provide services such as grief counseling, emergency shelter for abuse victims and other assistance.
To help victims navigate the crime victims’ compensation application process, the Office of the Attorney General provides training to victim advocates, hospitals and law enforcement officials across the state. The training, along with informational pamphlets and the agency’s Web site, www.texasattorneygeneral.gov, are intended to help victims and their advocates better understand application and payment procedures.
For more information about the Office of the Attorney General’s crime victims program, contact the Crime Victim Services Division at (800) 983-9933.
Attorney General Abbott Launches “On-Demand” Cyber Safety Video
Joint effort with Texas Cable Association educates Texas parents and children about online dangers
HOUSTON – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today joined with the Texas Cable Association and the Internet Keep Safe Coalition to launch a new video that teaches children and parents about online safety. For the next three to four months, cable service providers will make Attorney General Abbott’s Internet safety video available to their subscribers through on-demand cable services across Texas.
Protecting children and educating parents about the dangers facing children on the Internet has been a top priority for Attorney General Abbott. The on-demand video launched today helps teach viewers about online safety. The Attorney General’s Fugitive Unit has arrested 33 convicted sex offenders who have used the Internet to access social networking sites, including MySpace.com, in violation of their parole.
“Sophisticated, technology-savvy child predators are using the Internet to prey upon young children,” Attorney General Abbott said. “The video launc hed today helps educate parents and children about the dangers posed by Internet predators. We are grateful to the Internet Keep Safe Coalition and the Texas Cable Association for their support of this initiative and their commitment to Texas children.”
The video is available free for cable customers in Texas who have on-demand cable service. Texans with this service can access programs at their convenience and pause, rewind and fast forward them. The video describes risks associated with the Internet and teaches parents how to protect their children online. The iKeepSafe video will be available through cable providers’ video-on-demand service. Texas cable customers should check their local listings or call their cable provider for more details.
Michael Bybee, public relations manager for Comcast Houston, added: “Comcast and Attorney General Abbott are committed to helping families manage the media coming into their homes using innovative parental controls - whether it’s over the television or on the Internet. By providing the iKeepSafe video program for free through Comcast On Demand and airing the public service announcements on our cable systems, we can raise awareness of safe, online practices for children.”
Stacy Schmitt, vice president of communications for Time Warner Cable’s Central Texas Division, said: “We’re pleased to be able to donate air time on our cable systems throughout Texas to this important campaign to help parents teach Internet safety at home.”
The Texas Cable Association is a coalition of cable television providers from across the state. The Internet Keep Safe Coalition is a broad partnership of governors and first spouses, attorneys general, public health and educational professionals, law enforcement, and industry leaders working together for the health and safety of youth online.
The Internet Keep Safe Coalition is available online at www.iKeepSafe.org.
In addition to being accessible through cable networks’ on-demand services, the video is available on the Attorney General’s Web site, located at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
Since taking office, Attorney General Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting online child predators. Since 2003, the Fugitive Unit and the Cyber Crimes Unit, which protects children from online sexual exploitation, have arrested 33 men for using the Internet and maintaining online social networking accounts in violation of their parole.
Attorney General's Office Launches Web Tool Giving Public Greater Access to Information about Non-Profits Benefiting Law Enforcement
New Web tool also lets non-profits complete registration forms online
AUSTIN – The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) today launched a new online resource that improves Texans’ access to information about organizations that rely upon telephone solicitations to raise funds for law enforcement organizations.
The Web-based search tool launched today reflects Attorney General Abbott’s focus on transparency and openness, as well as his ongoing efforts to ensure that charitable organizations fulfill their stated charitable purpose.
“Each year, many generous Texans provide financial support to organizations that purport to benefit peace officers and their families,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “The online resource launched today ensures contributors have easy access to these organizations’ financial information. As a result, Texans can make informed decisions and determine the percentage of their dollars that will actually benefit peace officers.”
By accessing the new online resource at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer/letsa/index.php, Texans can search for an organization or view a list of all organizations that have registered with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is required by the Texas Law Enforcement Telephone Solicitation Act (LETSA). The financial information that is accessible on the new Web page has been compiled from the organizations’ registration statements and related attachments.
The OAG also launched a new online resource that will help affected entities comply with state law by offering registration forms that can be filled out online. Once online forms are completed, organizations can print and mail them to the OAG’s Consumer Protection Division. The form is online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/consumer/charityregform.pdf.
LETSA regulates law enforcement organizations that engage in telephone solicitation in the State of Texas. These organizations are required to file a registration statement with the OAG and pay a $50 registration fee. If the organization retains a commercial telephone solicitor, the solicitor must post a $50,000 surety bond with the Secretary of State.
In January, Attorney General Abbott launched an online search function that allows Texans to access financial information about Texas charitable organizations. To access the online Charity Search, visit the Attorney General’s Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Observes National Crime Victims’ Rights Week
Federal Victims of Crime Act helps Texas serve victims and their families
AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, state legislators and victim advocacy organizations today observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which marks the passage of the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and “25 Years of Rebuilding Lives.”
In 1984, the U.S. Congress passed the landmark VOCA statute to establish the Crime Victims Fund, which uses fines and fees paid by federal offenders to finance crime victim compensation, nationwide victim services and victim service provider training. Over the last 25 years, the federal Fund has grown from $68 million to more than $2 billion. Under VOCA, Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund has received nearly $300 million in federal funds. A similar amount has been distributed to victim services programs through the Governor’s Office.
“Serving and protecting Texas crime victims is one of our most important and solemn duties,” Attorney General Abbott said. “As custodians of the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, we are committed to working with crime victim organizations to help victims down the path to recovery. Together, we can ensure Texas crime victims have access to the financial resources and victim services they need to triumph over adversity.”
The Office of the Attorney General administers the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, which helps crime victims and their families with the financial costs of violent crime. Eligible victims may be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses they incurred because of the crime. Reimbursable expenses include medical and counseling bills, funeral costs and victim relocation expenses.
Last year, the OAG received more than 37,000 applications for crime victims’ assistance and awarded more than $66 million to victims and their families. The OAG also distributed nearly $34 million in grants to entities that provide emergency shelter, crisis counseling, court accompaniment and other victim assistance.
The Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund was established by the Texas Legislature in 1979 to help those who cannot afford the financial cost of crime. Fees, court costs and restitution paid by individuals convicted of state felonies or misdemeanors are allocated to the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund. When eligible victims and their families have exhausted all other outside means of financial support, including private insurance, the Fund helps them offset their crime-related expenses.
Individuals may be eligible for up to $50,000 in financial assistance from the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund. Victims who suffer total and permanent disability as a result of a crime may qualify for an additional $75,000, which may be used to offset specific expenses, such as lost wages, prosthetics, rehabilitation or making a home accessible.
Local hospitals and medical centers can provide crime victims with applications for financial assistance through the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund. In addition, every law enforcement agency in Texas is required by state law to provide crime victims information about the fund, including an application for financial assistance. Victims and survivors can also contact the OAG directly for an application.
To further serve victims of family violence, sexual assault, and stalking, the OAG administers the Texas Address Confidentiality Program (ACP). The ACP provides a substitute post office box address and free mail forwarding service for participants.
For more information about the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, contact the Crime Victim Services Division at (800) 983-9933 or visit the agency’s Web site at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov
Risks & Consequences: Keeping Up With Wireless Device Safety
Wireless telephones and other devices are everywhere – and there’s no doubt that they have made Texans’ lives more convenient. Cell phones have even helped save lives. Peace officers respond to innumerable calls citizens make from their cars or remote places where land lines are not available. While improved communication makes everyone more accessible, it does not come without risk – especially to young Texans.
Recent studies indicate that more than 40 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds – and almost three quarters of children between the ages of 13 and 17 – have wireless devices. As minors’ cell phone usage continues to increase, it is increasingly important that parents understand potential safety concerns.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) works tirelessly to keep children safe from sexual predators. The OAG’s Cyber Crimes and Fugitive units work closely with local law enforcement officers to track down fugitive sex offenders and child pornographers. Cyber Crimes officers also criss-cross the state speaking to students and parents about Internet and wireless communication safety. Some of the dangers related to wireless devices include:
Inappropriate content. Most current wireless devices have Internet-browsing and text-messaging capabilities. Many parents carefully monitor their kids’ Internet usage at home, so they should take the same precautions with their children’s cell phones. Web sites with harmful or inappropriate content can be easily accessed from cell phones. Parents should be encouraged to carefully evaluate whether to enable Web browsing or text messaging on their child’s telephone. Most cell phone carriers offer both free and fee-based services that allow parents to restrict browsing or texting.
Child predators. As with Internet-based e-mail, chat or instant messaging, text messaging can be used to persuade young Texans to reveal personal information or lure them into meeting a stranger. Kids should be taught not to respond to strangers’ messages – or any messages that make them uncomfortable – and they should be told to inform their parents if they receive any messages from strangers. Children should NEVER give out personal information or set up a meeting with someone they do not know.
Cyber-bullying. Unfortunately, some children are using modern technology to “cyber-bully,” which means using Internet chat, Web pages and cell-phone texting to intimidate, embarrass or hurt others. Often, cyber-bullying occurs among peers, but in some cases even teachers and other authority figures are targeted. Cyber-bullying can leave its victims with decreased self-esteem or feelings of fear, depression and anger. In some cases, cyber-bullying places its victims in real danger, especially if it provokes violence.
Young Texans should never tolerate cyber-bullying. Children who receive or discover intimidating or harmful messages, should notify a trusted adult immediately.
Sharing or posting inappropriate photos. According to a recent study, 20 percent of 13- to 19-year-olds have electronically posted or sent naked or semi-naked photos of themselves. This startling phenomenon reflects the need for parents to make sure their children realize that these messages or photos may:
- Get forwarded to others or posted on the Internet;
- Raise the expectation of sexual activity, potentially putting the young sender in uncomfortable or dangerous situations;
- Cause embarrassment and legal or employment problems for parents and family members;
- Result in suspensions from school or athletic participation; or
- Hinder future attempts to get into college, receive scholarships or gain employment.
Consumer Alert: Attorney General Abbott Advises Attention to Identity Theft
Texans need to protect their personally identifying information, watch for signs of fraud
According to the Federal Trade Commission, Texas ranks second in the nation for identity theft complaints, so Texans should carefully guard their identities and credit ratings. In 2008, nearly 32,000 Texans were identity theft victims and as a result, lost thousands of dollars and hours of time attempting to correct their credit ratings and personal financial history.
Identity theft is a crime that occurs when a criminal illegally uses someone else’s personal information – whether it’s another’s name, address, driver’s license number, Social Security number, credit card number – to commit fraud or other crimes. Sometimes identity theft is detected quickly, but other times it may take years before it surfaces. As a result, a victim may not recognize the theft until his or her credit has been destroyed. No one, including children, is immune to this crime.
The average victim loss runs into hundreds of dollars, with victims forced to spend hours clea ning up the damage. But the worst cases can cost thousands of dollars and take years to fully repair. To help prevent identity theft, the OAG conducts public education efforts and pursues vendors that fail to protect their customers’ personal information.
Identity thieves obtain their victims’ personal information in several ways. Here are just a few:
- Dumpster diving. Thieves retrieve bills and other documents out of the trash. Although Texas law prohibits vendors from simply throwing away documents that contain their customers’ sensitive information, when a store or office makes a mistake, identity thieves can recover large caches of personal information from publicly accessible dumpsters. To prevent thieves from obtaining usable personal information from the trash, Texans should use a cross-cut shredder to destroy financial documents and paperwork with personal information.
- Skimming. Some identity thieves use an economical storage device to copy credit/debit card n umbers when credit cards are processed by vendors. Texans can avoid falling victim to this tactic by keeping an eye on their credit card statements.
- Phishing. Thieves pretending to be financial institutions or online retailers often send official-looking e-mails in an attempt to trick Internet users into revealing their personal information. Texans can avoid falling victim to this tactic by refusing to provide their passwords or sensitive information (personal or account details) through e-mail or in response to unsolicited phone calls.
- Pretexting. Like phishing, this scheme employs false pretenses to obtain personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources. Texans can avoid falling victim to this tactic by refusing to provide their passwords or sensitive information (personal or account details) through e-mail or in response to unsolicited phone calls.
- Phony job offers. Identity thieves place fake employment ads and ask respondents to fill out applications that include their personal information. Texans can avoid falling victim to this tactic by researching a company before providing any personal information. Job applicants should only apply at a reputable business’s known physical location or Web site.
- Change of address. Identity thieves use change of address forms to divert a consumer’s mail to another location by completing a change-of-address form. The U.S. Postal Service now sends a “Move Validation Letter” to both an old and new address when a change of address is filed. If Texans receive one of these letters but did not apply for a change of address, they should call their post office immediately.
- Regular stealing. By stealing items like wallets, PDAs, laptops, purses, new checks, tax information or personnel records, identity thieves can have access to the personal information they need to commit identity theft. Texans can avoid falling victim to identity theft by guarding these sensitive r ecords with care, and only carrying those records that they need. If records are lost or stolen, Texans should cancel the lost or stolen credit cards and alert their banks.
- Shoulder surfing. By literally looking over a victim’s shoulder, identity thieves can obtain personal information, such as at an ATM, for example. Texans can avoid to this tactic by being aware of their surroundings and carefully concealing personal information and PIN numbers.
- Hacking. Hackers gain information by breaking into computer systems. Texans can avoid hackers by using anti-virus software, firewalls and other methods to keep your computer secure. Texans should keep all such software updated to ensure they receive the latest protections.
- Working in your home. Residential contractors or other workers may misuse personal information they find in plain view. Texans can avoid this tactic by keeping sensitive documents in a secure place and limit unsupervised unknown workers in their homes.
- Texans should review their financial statements regularly and look for unusual activity. They should also request and review their credit report each year. To get a free copy of the “big three” credit reports, visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com, call (877) 322-8228 or write: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, Ga. 30348-5281.
- Texans who believe their identity has been stolen can follow these steps to minimize their losses:
- First request a credit report “Fraud Alert,” which requires that creditors follow special procedures before creating new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. A call to any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies can initiate a 90-day fraud alert.
- Fraud alerts entitle credit card holders to free copies of their credit reports. Potential identity theft victims should look for credit inquiries from companies they have not contacted, accounts they did not open, and debts on their acco unts that they cannot explain.
- Identity theft victims should file complaints with the OAG and the Federal Trade Commission. A printed FTC complaint, which is available online, in conjunction with a police report, can constitute an identity theft report and entitle a victim to certain protections. The identity theft report can be used to:
- permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on a credit report;
- ensure that improper debts do not reappear on a credit report;
- prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft; and
- place an extended fraud alert on a credit report.
For more information about how to recover from identity theft and steps Texans can take to protect their personal information, visit www.protectyouridnow.org or www.texasfightsidtheft.gov.
Office of Attorney General
Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Hotline: (877) ID-THEFT (438-4338)
TTY: (866) 653-4261
FTC Identity Theft Clearinghouse
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Consumer Credit Reporting Companies
Equifax: (800) 525-6285
Experian: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Better Business Bureau