Penn Yan Central School students reported incidents to trusted adults.
Updated to include information from Dundee Central School.
New York State Police are investigating reports of an individual blackmailing area students through social media say Penn Yan and Dundee Central School officials. They are sending letters to parents home with students explaining the situation today, Dec. 5.
Penn Yan Superintendent Howard Dennis says the investigation began a few days ago when students in Penn Yan confided in trusted adults at the school. They then notified law enforcement. Dennis says the predator has victimized more than a handful of students, and he has heard reports there may be as many as 15 young people who have been blackmailed.
"Thank goodness they felt comfortable enough and the supports were there," said Dennis.
Dundee Superintendent Kelly Houck says she is not aware of any students in Dundee who have been directly involved. However, she advises parents, "Please know that if your child is posting false or embarrassing information on their accounts, other people can capture the posts and re-post the information as well. Most social media sites will allow users to set their profiles to “private” for a select group of friends or family members. By not setting their accounts to 'private only,' may put your child at risk."
The letter to Penn Yan parents says:
The Penn Yan Central School District’s top priority is the safety of our students. We recently have been made aware of several students within Yates County that have been victimized by an online predator. This person(s) has created numerous social media accounts, friended students and proceeded to obtain very personal and private images and information about these students.
The predator is now using this information to “blackmail” the students to provide additional pictures and information with the threat of sharing what has already been provided on social media sites and other public entities. The State Police are involved and investigating all leads.
We currently implement curriculum derived from https://www.commonsense.org/education/ to educate our students in, “What it Means to be a Digital Citizen, Cyberbullying, The Impact of Your Digital Footprint,” and more. We also teach our students that “if you see something, say something,” regardless of whether the observed concern is in-person or on social media.
In light of these recent reports, we ask that you please take a moment and speak with your child(ren) about their social media presence and activities. Common Sense Education offers numerous resources to support parents in having these conversations with their children. Below are links to only a few, of the many, resources available from Common Sense Education and other online platforms:
If you have questions about how to have these conversations with your child, please contact your child’s counselor. If you believe your child has been targeted by this online predator please contact School Resource Officer Stewart at 315-536-4408 or School Resource Officer Mullins at 315-536- 3346.
Sincerely, Howard Dennis, Superintendent
The Dundee letter says:
Dear DCS Families,
We recently have been made aware of several students within Yates County that have been victimized by an online predator. This person(s) has created numerous social media accounts, friended the students and proceeded to obtain very personal and private images and information about these students. The predator is now using this information to “blackmail” the students to provide additional pictures and information with the threat of sharing what has already been provided on social media sites and other public entities. The State Police are involved and investigating all leads.
This letter is to inform you of what is currently transpiring in our own local area and also to remind parents of the importance of monitoring their children’s online activity and digital footprint. We understand that it is very challenging to stay ahead of the constant changes in social media sites and technology. Our children have become dependent on their smartphones and with this comes a great responsibility to make good choices, when posting and responding on social media sites, accepting friend requests from strangers and sharing personal/private information.
Many students do not understand the fact that once you hit the send button, the information, pictures, and posts, no longer belong just to them. Relatives, friends, colleges, employers, and strangers may have access to the pictures and information and can pass it along. This can help or harm a person's reputation. Social media platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook are very much like a personal journal, where students will post their daily activities, name, age, address, family members, hobbies, where they attend school, the sports teams they participate on, and even the number on their athletic uniform. Complete strangers will have access to your child’s personal information and may try to engage your son or daughter in online conversation. When this happens, children put themselves at risk for criticism and for potential online predators looking to harm/hurt our children. It is important for our students and families to remember, “if you see something, say something” if your child comes across concerning activity on social media.
Please know that if your child is posting false or embarrassing information on their accounts, other people can capture the posts and re-post the information as well. Most social media sites will allow users to set their profiles to “private” for a select group of friends or family members. By not setting their accounts to “private only”, may put your child at risk. Please remember the following:
Posting inappropriate content could damage their reputation and/or the reputation of others
Posting humiliating comments on other users accounts/profiles can be deemed as offensive and lead to bullying or harassment.
Posting pictures may open your child’s profile to strangers that do not have your child’s best interests at heart.
Some posts and uploads may be illegal, such as threats of violence or asking for inappropriate pictures.
As a district, we will do our part to monitor the activity on our website and available social media during school hours and we will continue to educate our students about safe and appropriate online interactions. We ask that you help and support by reinforcing the importance of responsible posting and responding to social media with your children, by monitoring their online interactions at home. We strongly encourage you and your child to report anything they may see that is concerning to them or to you.
We ask that you talk with your child about the social media accounts they are using and the potential dangers associated with their use. Ask if they have any “spam” or “fake” accounts that are intended for specific friends and not for parents, coaches or colleges to view. If your child is using legitimate accounts with or without your permission, it would be prudent to review their profiles to ensure that no personal or identifiable information is available to online predators. We also encourage you to monitor and develop guidelines to ensure the safety of your child while using social media or the internet. Below you will find some websites to reinforce social media and internet safety:
If you have any questions, concerns, or wish to report suspicious activity, please reach out to your child’s teachers, counselors, coaches, any school administrator, our School Resource Officer or any of our local law enforcement agencies. It truly takes a Village, thank you!
In Education, Kelly Houck, Superintendent, Dundee Central School