By Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago

Feb 19,

DESPITE popular myths, the typical online predator does not pose as a teen and lure victims into face-to-face meetings to abuse them, according to new research.

Rather, they tend to be adults who make their intentions of a sexual encounter quite clear to vulnerable young teens who often believe they are in love with the predator.

And contrary to the concerns of many parents and politicians, the US researchers found that social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace do not appear to expose teenagers to greater risks.

"A lot of the characterisations that you see in internet safety information suggests that sex offenders are targeting very young children and using violence and deception against their victims," said Janis Wolak of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

"Especially since social networking sites became popular, people are suggesting that these offenders are using information to stalk and abduct their victims," said Ms Wolak, whose study appears in the journal American Psychologist.

"We are not seeing those types of cases," Ms Wolak said.

Instead, she said most cases arise from risky online interactions such as chatting about sex with strangers.

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photo: It's not who you think ... research into the vulnerability of teenagers online debunks sex predator myths / Jamie Hanson