The Internet is quickly becoming one of the favorite hunting grounds for sexual predators. With the booming popularity of online networks like MySpace.com, there's no shortage of potential victims willing to share intimate details with perfect strangers.
However, authorities are now turning to these websites to turn the tables on cyber stalkers.
MySpace.com has teamed up with eight U.S. attorneys general offices to help crack down on sex offenders. Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott is among those leading the charge.
"The bottom line for our office is we want to do all we can to make the Internet a safe place for teens, for young adults to use and to play and by working with MySpace.com. With them cooperating with us, it should be a safe place for teens and young adults," said Greg Abbott, Texas Attorney General.
Officials say Abbott has been in communication with the popular online gathering place for more than a year.
With MySpace.com on board, critical information such as names, email addresses, and profile information of sex offenders will be turned over to the his office. However, it doesn't stop there.
"MySpace is taking the initiative to de-activate those profiles," said Deputy Communications Director, Jerry Strickland of the Texas Attorney General's Office. "So any known sex offender on MySpace will be deactivated and they will no longer be apart of that social networking site."
Not only will the new information aide in investigative efforts, but it will also help catch offenders in violation of their registration requirements.
"Sex offenders individually could be restricted to their use of Internet access, or even owning a computer in their home," said Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk. "So if we find out that somebody has those types of restrictions and then we find out they're on MySpace or any of the social networks, we can actually bring charges against them."
Despite the progress in locating sex offenders online, officials caution parents that online sites can still pose dangers to children.
"This does not necessarily mean MySpace is all of a sudden a safe portal for our children," said Strickland. "This is just one of many tools that law enforcement now has as a way to police MySpace and really take a look at it.
Sheriff Kirk added, "We have to take one step at a time, this is a good first step."