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Reporting Trouble

Who should you contact for help?

Once they have identified a serious problem, parents are often confused about who to turn to for help. Even though the criminal can't be seen and the crime happens over computer and phone wires, it is important to remember that most crimes on the Internet can be handled like crimes in the real world.

If there is an immediate personal threat of harm to your child, call 911, as with similar emergencies offline.

Local Police

There is no national agency that deals with every type of Internet crime, so local law enforcement is generally your best resource.

Select your home state for more information on how to contact your state police:

Your local police can help you determine your legal rights and responsibilities, since laws for protecting children and families vary from state to state.

More information about your legal rights and responsibilities is also available.

Your local police can also help you identify and contact national child advocacy groups (see the box to the right) that may have expertise in dealing with specific types of crimes.

National child advocacy groups:

There are several national child advocacy groups providing specialized assistance with problems in the real world that can also address these problems when they occur online. They run 24-hour helplines, provide educational materials, make referrals for local family support groups, and offer many other problem-specific resources.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) runs a CyberTipline, where you can report incidents of child sexual exploitation, including child pornography, online enticement of children for sexual acts, child prostitution, child-sex tourism, and child sexual molestation. You can also call them at 1-800-843-5678.

More information on contacting national advocacy groups is also available.

Federal Law Enforcement

Many times Internet crimes fall under federal jurisdiction. In a situation that is not an emergency in which you encounter some criminal activity that might involve your child, consider contacting law enforcement agencies at the federal level.

Here are two examples:

  • For child-luring -- when, through contact online, an adult tries to "lure" a child to meet face-to-face -- you can contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To find the phone number for an FBI office near you, click here.
  • If you encounter child pornography -- sexually explicit material involving minors -- call the US Customs Service at 1-800-BE-ALERT. For information, go to the US Customs Web site. IMPORTANT NOTE: Downloading or making a copy of child pornography for any reason -- even to provide it as evidence to law enforcement -- is a crime in the United States. If you run across what you believe to be child pornography, you should record the URL (Web address) and report only that to law enforcement.

Here are some other federal agencies that deal with crimes on the Web:

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