The Internet is a tremendous tool that many people use on a daily basis, but police say it’s important to be aware of the dangers lurking on the World Wide Web.

Susan shared her cautionary tale about falling into the hands of a cyber-stalker when she was just 13-years-old.

She says she was feeling alone, had few friends and was in need of someone to talk to after the loss of one of her parents.

So she turned to a chat line, “and one day he just wanted more from me. He wanted me to strip down on Web cam. At first I didn’t want to but when he told me my address, my school, my friend’s name, my family member’s name, I listened because I was scared.”

It went on for months, with the suspect showing her pictures and video of sexually explicit acts with children as young as seven.

Finally, police and even Interpol became involved. The computer was tracked to another country, but the male was never caught.

Susan wants to warn others, “You don’t think it can happen to you and then it happens to you. You think you have this amazing friend you met online, you think what adults are telling you is a lie, like this guy’s not going to hurt me. He’s going to hurt me.”

The Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) has specially trained forensic experts to try to track down stalkers and child predators.

But they say phishing, trying to hook people’s personal and financial information, and fraudulent sales are also big problems.

Firewalls, anti-virus programs and anti-malware software can help, but it’s not always enough.

Sgt. Eugene Silva says “Secure your password, have really good, strong passwords. Use upper case, lower case, a combination of both, numbers, special characters.”

It’s also important to be especially cautious if you’re thinking of buying big-ticket items like a car or truck over the Internet.

WRPS Sgt. Rob Cowan says “Watch out for third party intervention when you’re dealing with one person in Alberta for example, but yet they want you to send the money to the U.K., little flags and bells should be going off.”

The growth of cyber crime is keeping police forces increasingly busy, even as they add to the resources needed to combat it.

“They are getting very savvy, especially with technology increasing the way it is, it’s getting harder and harder to track them. They are borderless…It’s not only occurring in Kitchener-Waterloo and Canada, it’s all over the world.” Silva says.

Police say it’s important to get educated to protect yourself. There’s information on the WRDSB website  as well as through the federal government’s Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

Coming up in part two: Find out how easy it is for children to access potentially dangerous material online and what are some of the most popular – and shocking – social media sites.