Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sweet Justice is Coming

Working Stiffs welcome Jordan Dane as our guest today!

Sweet Justice is Coming

By Jordan Dane

Imagine the horror of going to your teenager’s bedroom one morning only to find her missing. Her bed hadn’t been slept in and her clothes are gone.

In 2000, that’s what one mother in Florida faced. Her only child had conspired against her and ran away. And worse, she later discovered that her daughter had left the country—without having a passport. From the moment I read this news story, I was hooked and had to know more about how such an atrocity could happen. The teen’s trail might have gone ice cold, but her mother pushed authorities in a direction.

She knew where to start looking.

Only six months earlier, the girl had received a computer for a gift—a thoughtful present from a mother who wanted the best for her child. But this gift soon brought a virtual menace into their home. A charming and anonymous stranger lured the 14-year old girl to Greece—a man she’d met in a teen chat room. We’ve all heard stories like this. But after researching the facts behind this case, I was amazed at the audacity of this Internet predator.

And I wanted to shed light on the shrewd tactics of online predators in my upcoming book—Evil Without A Face (Feb 2009, Avon, $7.99)—the first book in my Sweet Justice series.

The online predator not only manipulated the teenager in Florida, but he also convinced law-abiding adults to cooperate with his schemes. These people thought they were helping an abused kid, but they didn’t know the facts, check with her family or contact local law enforcement. This stranger duped an employee of the local phone company into arranging for a private cell phone to talk to the girl directly. His slick manipulation scored him a purchased airline ticket (without a direct connection to him) and a clandestine ride for the girl to the airport. But after he bribed a child pornographer to acquire an illegal passport for her to leave the United States, the girl was out of the country before her mother knew she was gone.

And the chase to save the girl was on—a mother’s worst fear.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. This happened in 2000, before the added airport security measures were implemented after 9/11 in 2001. The girl would never have been allowed on a plane without proper ID. But after contacting a source in the airline industry, I was shocked to learn how many children travel unaccompanied and without a valid ID on domestic flights these days. So this extraordinary Florida case became the framework for my novel, Evil Without A Face. And I chose to set part of the story in the unique venue of Alaska where I had lived for ten years.

My novels have the feel of being ripped from today's headlines because real crime inspires me. Who says crime doesn't pay? Violence is like the ripple effect on the surface of still water. The wake radiates out from the victim and touches many people. In my books, I give a voice to the many victims of crime.

In Evil Without A Face, an illusive web of imposters on the Internet lures a deluded teen from her Alaskan home and launches a chain reaction collision course with an unlikely tangle of heroes. A new kind of criminal organization becomes the faceless enemy behind an insidious global conspiracy. And the life of one young girl and countless others hang in the balance. This is the initial driver to my new series. With an international setting, these thrillers will focus on the lives and loves of three women—a bounty hunter operating outside the law, an ambitious vice cop, and a former international operative with a mysterious past. These women give Lady Justice a whole new reason to wear blinders.

And their brand of justice is anything but sweet.

After researching the case in Florida, I became more concerned for na├»ve kids socializing in cyberspace—young people like my nieces and nephews. Savvy online criminals lurk in anonymity and carry on without fear of repercussion. I’m an active member of MySpace and Facebook and know how they operate. But these social networks aren’t the problem—the criminals are. And as you’ve seen in the headlines and on TV, the online community has become a real hunting ground for predators.

Why not? It’s easy pickings.

For the most part, the Internet is an invaluable tool. And it breaks down the barriers between countries, allowing many of us to have international friends. But the anonymity of cyberspace attracts all sorts of users with criminal intent. Terrorists have found new high-tech ways to recruit online and they have duped some Internet users into funding their activities or have resorted to outright stealing through subterfuge. And since crimes that cross over jurisdictions and international borders are harder to prosecute, offenders often get away with their schemes. That's why I wanted to write Evil Without A Face and dole out my brand justice. After all, who couldn’t use a liberal dose of ‘Sweet Justice’ when reality becomes stranger than fiction?

How has your use of the Internet changed over the years? Have you become more suspicious of certain behaviors from online strangers? And if you have children who use online resources, can you share some tips on how you keep them safer?


Joyce said...

Welcome back to Working Stiffs, Jordan. The new series sounds fascinating!

When my boys were growing up, our computer was in a highly visible part of the house where I could sit in the family room and see what they were doing. My youngest was a senior in high school/freshman in college (he did both at the same time) before he had his own computer.

These days, anyone who lets a child have their own computer in their bedroom is either grossly naive or downright irresponsible.

Tory said...

Very interesting, Jordan.

I think one reason children/ teenagers are at risk on the internet is that it's easier to make "friends" there than learn the social skills you need to hang out with "real" (as in, not virtual) people.

One of my friends was worried about her daughter until she got her interested in being a set designer for their school musical production. Once her kid got more interested in that and the friends she met there than her computer, the computer problems vanished. Her daughter is now in college in art school, learning more about creating the stuff she originally got interested in through set design.

Not that it's always that easy, mind you.

Pat Remick said...

Welcome Jordan! You've given us all a lot to think about. In some ways, the social networking world seems like a foreign country to some of us older folks -- and our children can take advantage of that. I so agree with Joyce that the computer needs to be in a "public" place in your home -- Congrats on the new series!

Joyce said...

I forgot to mention when I posted Jordan's blog that she has 3 books to give away to some lucky people who leave comments today. And she's authorized ME to do the drawing.

And no, I don't take bribes.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Jordan, Hey Stiffs!

In my job as a reporter, I get hundreds of emails a week from viewers asking whether a website or an email is a scam. And literally dozens of them from viewers who have already been ripped off.

It's so sad that the warning signs go unrecognized. I ask: you think you WON a lottery you didn't enter? How would that happen?

Or: someone wants to sell you a new car for $5000? And you're going to send a money order to someone you don't know in another state--and then you think that car is going to arrive?

But it's tragic how many people fall for these things, and so many others.

The internet is a brilliant smokescreen. Trust? Forget about it.

Jordan Dane said...

Hey there Joyce--It's great to be back at working stiffs. Thanks for having me today.

You'd be surprised how many parents allow their children privacy. And even if you don't allow it at your home, that doesn't mean some other family won't make it available.

The thing that I've found more often is that parents don't know about the social networks and the places kids go unless they poke around a little. This might seem like spying, but kids know how to hide activity from their folks and they do it. And it's scary to think your kids are conspiring against you when it comes to their own safety.

Jordan Dane said...

OMG Tory--You are SOOOO right. I think that our society will feel the effects of this anonymous means of communication in the future too. It's sad that kids find it easier to text someone than to pick up the phone to talk--even to their friends. And from that kind of communication, you don't have the face to face cues that you get to know how to interpret their emotions or read other people well.

I had a scary thing happen to me once online when a young girl (a wannabe writer) contacted me by insta-messenger to tell me she was thinking about committing suicide. I didn't know her name. I only knew she lived in CA. I stayed on the chat with her most of the afternoon to keep her talking. She even told me how she had planned to do it. She was an only child and I knew she loved her parents so I got her talking on that, encouraging her to talk to them. I finally talked her down enough to know she was going to be okay.

Years later I chatted with her again and she was in college, had received a scholarship and was doing well. But that day still is in my mind, especially when I write a book like EVIL.

Karen in Ohio said...

This is a pet peeve of mind, privacy of kids. I'm all for it, up to a point, but our job as parents is to help our kids learn to take care of themselves, and to protect them until they do. We don't even know what they're up against unless we peel back their self-imposed layers of anti-parental armor.

I taught computer classes at the local community ed level, partly because I saw so many fellow parents doing foolish things, vis a vis letting their kids use computers, and having them in their rooms, etc. My daughter's friend's mom happened to be taking one of my classes, and she ratted me out to my own daughter after I described how I checked the computer after the kids used it. I was incensed. (This was the same woman who served alcohol to our kids at her home, without permission from other parents.)

Another woman in one of my classes was outraged that anyone would breech the privacy of their children, even after I described my experience with my third grader, who was asked by an anonymous person to meet him someplace. She innocently came to me and asked me to drive her there, or I would never have known she was using a chat room. That was 13 years ago, before instant messaging, Facebook, or texting even existed. There are so many more inroads to our kids these days; why make it even easier to get to them?

Jordan Dane said...

Hey Hank--Great to see you here. I loved being on Jungle Red Writers with you. A talented group of authors and a fun blog too.

In these hard economic times, people turn to crime to make ends meet. And I think they find that stealing can be more lucrative than an hourly job. But the Internet has turned into the new hunting ground for anyone who wants to put the time in to learn how it works anonymously. Even my young nephew knows how to create a hard to trace domain name.

We live in a scary world with criminals in places you least suspect. I recently had to close out my credit card because someone stole my magnetic ID off my credit card from my swipe transaction at the gas pump. My credit card company told me to always go inside to pay, but it happens there too. I'm not responsible for the theft and they only swiped my card for gas up to the max $75 three times, but the fact that my credit card company knew about it, made me think they see it a lot. I'm considering going back to a cash basis and may eliminate my online transations.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jordan. As a mom of three teenagers just hearing of this case turns my blood cold. People preach internet safety to kids and parents through schools. I don't want to keep them from all the wonderful things they can learn online, so I monitor everything that comes through their email(no im's). I also only allow them to use the net on the school computers, where certain sites and activities are blocked or forbidden.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading the comments. This book has been added to my TBR list.
In the use of the computer, I think one has to be ever vigilant and put up firewalls and screen what your children are engaged in on the coputers.
JWIsley AT

Jordan Dane said...

Hey Pat--Thanks for stopping by to participate in this discussion. Some of the more informed parents I've seen have facebook and myspace pages. This doesn't preclude the kid from having more than one page however so it still comes down to open communication & trust. I'm friends with my nieces and nephews and so far they've never given me reason to be concerned. I also enjoy getting to know them better thru their pages. It's fun.

But a parent also has to look at their kids pages to make sure no one can track down their kid thru their page info. Predators might look at the pics they post to figure out where they go to school or what their hobbies are. Making their profiles private can help with this.

Jordan Dane said...

Hey Karen in Ohio--Thanks for your comment. You had a lot of good things to say. You reminded me that when I was growing up, we entertained ourselves so differently. We had more physical things to do and went out with our friends. I think the fancy phones have helped make this online thing worse. And what kid needs all the bells and whistles of these new phones anyway.

Some parents have the kid provide their passwords so they can access the acct when they need to. Again, this doesn't preclude the kid from having many many accts, but if the kid's online time is balanced between other activities with computer time being limited, it may not a bad thing.

Jordan Dane said...

Hey Bethany--Thanks for your comment and your insights into net safety for your kids. Library computers also block sites and track the kid's activity. I would probably make sure of their policies at any public place before I gave the green light to my kids--as an added precaution.

And a parent has a tough job these days--hoping to strike a balance between the fun things the world has to offer and its darker seedier sides. You don't want your child to grow up fearful--only cautious.

Jordan Dane said...

Hey JW--Thanks for your comment too.

In my book, I wanted to shed light on how Amber Alerts work too. I was surprised to learn that when a kid is 17, they may not make the cut on an Amber Alert. Some states, the max age is 16, so not every state will get the word on an alert. And since my teen in this story had a history of running away from home once before (even if it was to stay at a friends house in town), that negated the use of the Amber Alert at all. There's a point to this. Amber Alerts have to be special and apply to the right case, otherwise people grow complacent when they hear another one, like the kid crying "Wolf!" But in my book, I wanted to show the frustration of the family--and just imagine if it happened to you. A real scary thought.

Karen in Ohio said...

Jordan, I'm fascinated by the topic of your book, and wish you the very best of luck with it. Maybe it will dramatically illustrate what can happen to parents who might otherwise not get it. That's a good thing.

Jordan Dane said...

To Karen--The book promo for EVIL talks about human trafficking and yes, the plot starts there, but I wanted the underworld of this global conspiracy to be darker than that. Maybe this is my way of shocking people into paying attention. But in today's world, justice is not always easy to find. And global crimes that cross over jurisdictions and international borders can be harder to prosecute. I wanted the idea of Sweet Justice (the name of the series) to be about those who take the law into their own hands--the Sentinels--the high-powered secret organization of vigilantes that wield justice their way. In fiction, we can create the world our characters live in.

Taking the law in your own hands can be a slippery slope. This secret organization will find this out too.

Thanks again for your comment.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Welcome Jordan.

I have always watched my kid's activity on the web. I haven't resorted to programs like netnanny, but I do look at internet history, etc.

I also warn them on a regular basis. Now if I can just stop them from downloading trojans and other viruses, I'll be happy. Last one, just weeks ago cost me $270 for a company to recover my computer and fix Windows.

By the way, I accepted the position of Airport Environmental Compliance Manager for Enterprise Rent A Car this morning. Good news is I never got to collect an unemployment check. Bad news is I start next Thursday.

Thanks for the thoughts and prayers everyone.

Jordan Dane said...

Congratulations on your new job, Wilfred. Good for you!!! I like hearing good news.

And thanks for taking the time to comment.

Joyce said...

Will, that's great news! It has to be such a relief to find something so quickly.

Joyce said...

Jordan, thank again for being here today.

The winners of a copy of Jordan's new book are: Tory, Karen, and Bethany. Email me (joyce at your mailing addresses and I'll pass them on to Jordan so she can send you the books.

Jordan Dane said...

Thanks so much for hosting me, Joyce. Working Stiffs is a great blog that I enjoy visiting.

And congratulations to the winners.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Picks By Pat said...

Fascinating post, Jordan.

I'm working on a novel that was also inspired by real events, a predator stalking one of my kids way back in 1997. They didn't even have laws to protect children from the internet then. My most frustrating discovery was learning that the phone company and the police (even the FBI) were unwilling or unable to help me. It was a real shock.

Pat Balester
author, In The Dismal Swamp