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Cybercop Stalks the Internet to Keep Kids Safe from Online Predators

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DURHAM COUNTY — At any given moment 5 million people are on the Internet. Despite those numbers, no single law enforcement agency has jurisdiction in cyberspace.

TheFBIhas set up eight cybercrime task forces around the country, including one in Charlotte. Agents will tell you that the biggest threat the Internet poses may be to your children.

But in a tiny, dark office in Durham County, the long arm of the law reaches into cyberspace.

"There's preteen, XXX, sex pics, little kids, dad & daughter, family sex," explains undercover officer Steve Meska of the Durham County Sheriff's Office..

Meska whisks his way through cyberspace, trying to connect with the predatory side of humanity. It finds him in an instant.

Online, this detective has been a teenager, a pedophile, a parent with a child -- anything to make contact.

"Man, he's having a good old time wanting to know how I get touched and stuff," says Meska while online pretending to be a 14-year-old girl named Sharon.

Meska has identified 73 chat rooms where he is likely to encounter predators, all with repugnant names; there are hundreds more.

Meska walks a fine line between not feeding other people's sick desires, and trying to lure out true predators.

"The guy who's actually going to go and try to meet a child, he's the one I want. He's the predator," says Meska.

Meska got Michael Allen Canada of Apex.

"We found out that he had active profiles for other teenagers that he was actively pursuing to have sex with, says Capt.. Bill Wrenn of the Durham County Sheriff's Office.

As an Internet investigator, Meska played the role of a 13-year-old girl, and after a month of building trust, lured Canada to Virginia and into handcuffs.

"You've got to build a trust, build a rapport. And they think they're really winning you over. And little do they know... It just takes a lot of time," he says.

Meska says if your children are on the Internet, you are fooling yourself to believe they would never cross the line, surf into a sex chat room, or meet a predator.

"There are dangerous people out there, and with this medium of the Internet, it's a lot easier for them to find victims," he says.

"There are people out there that are willing to talk to your kids for you. And we've proven that to you today," says Wrenn.

This is part-time work for Meska. Even so, he is actively pursuing nine cases where he thinks the predator is desperate enough to travel to meet him.

"Sometimes there are so many people that hit on you, I just can't keep up with it," he says.

Meska is the only lawman in North Carolina hunting for predators online. He is just one man against so much evil.

"All you can do is pick away at the dragon," he says. "You can't kill it."

Meska's computer logs all of his contacts, and provides the perfect evidence trail.

Here is what you can do to lessen your child's chances of being victimized Online:
  • Do not let your child have a computer in their own room. Instead, put it in a common area of your home.
  • Spend time with your children online. Have them show you their favorite places on the Web.
  • Talk about the dangers, and be honest about sexual victimization.
  • Most importantly, listen. Your child probably knows a lot more about this than you do, or are willing to admit.For more tips, including kid-friendly sites and filtering software suggestions, visit WRAL OnLine'sFiltering the Web: An OnLine Guide for Parents & Kids. What did you think about this story?Give us your feedback.
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    Jim Payne, Reporter
    Richard Adkins, Photographer
    Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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