Teen's disappearance raises questions about online safety

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) A 14-year-old girl who disappeared from her Bell County home has been found safe in Connecticut.

Police say on Wednesday a neighbor saw Madison York, 14, leave with a man and a teenage boy in a van that had Connecticut plates.

The Bell County Sheriff's Office says they later found a Facebook page they say York created, posing as an 18-year-old. They say she had an online relationship with a 17-year-old Connecticut boy.

Three people now face charges in this case. York's family says they're heading to Connecticut to pick her up.

This story raises the question...how can you protect your children online?

We talked Lt. Shane Bates with Kentucky State Police. Bates commands the states Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

"Kids are using social networking sites like Facebook more than ever before," said Lt. Bates. "We are seeing more cases like York's every year."

Bates says they investigate about 100 complaints every year regarding internet crimes against children...many more he says go unreported.

"A lot of these juveniles they get online as a part of the social networking sites, where they feel comfortable," Bates said. "Unfortunately, you have so many of these circumstances that build up an Internet relationship and these kids truly believe they are in love with the person their communicating with."

However in a majority of cases, Bates says, the person on the other end isn't who they say they are.

"You don't truly ever know who that person is...pictures can be faked...ages can't be faked. There's no way to verify that information online."

"The days of having to stalk the playgrounds are over. That playground is now online, these child predators, they have access to children all over the world now," Bates explained.

He says the best advice he can give to parents is to always know who your child is communicating with. Keep the computer in a common space, like the kitchen or living room. He says you can also download monitoring software that tracks your child's usage online...It works for the computer and cell phones.

"Just be engaged in your child's life. Technology shouldn't be raising your child," he went on to say.

In August of 2012, state police arrested Solomon Waters a British National, who flew more than 4,000 miles from England to Kentucky to meet who he thought was an underage girl he met online. When he arrived at the Bluegrass Airport, federal agents were waiting for him.

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