By Al Lenhardt, President and CEO, National Crime Prevention Council
n 1980, a yet-unnamed canine started his run as the beloved “spokes-dog” for the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and the crime prevention movement. McGruff the Crime Dog has played a pivotal role ever since in NCPC’s public service advertising campaigns, which have served as a powerful national catalyst to get citizens involved in crime prevention. McGruff’s messages have changed over the years. In the beginning, his focus was on personal and home safety—locks, lights, and alarms. While keeping a watchful eye on traditional crime prevention topics,
McGruff is now addressing contemporary concerns such as identity theft and cyberbullying.
Last year the NCPC adopted a new strategic plan identifying four specific goals for the future. One of these pillars includes responding to emerging crime trends. Today’s fast-paced world can be difficult to keep up with; modern society considers cellular telephones, for example, not just convenient but practically a necessity. However, law abiding citizens are not the only ones attempting to keep up with the times. Thieves and predators are also adapting to rapid technological changes. That is why the NCPC is focusing its mission to keep up with these changes while retaining strong basic prevention messages featuring McGruff.
New Survey Reveals McGruff Continues to be Widely Recognized
A recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive for the NCPC determined the relevance of its icon. Nearly threequarters of adult U.S. citizens recognize McGruff, and better than 9 in 10 know him once his name is mentioned—proof that since his first televised appearance in 1980, McGruff has been widely recognized as the nation’s top dog for crime prevention and has maintained a strong positive image ever since.
According to the survey, McGruff sustains a strong positive image, with more than 90 percent of adult U.S. citizens agreeing that McGruff is informative, helpful, trustworthy, effective, respected, caring, approachable, and relevant. And 72 percent think that he is cool! McGruff has always been an excellent communicator, and a majority of adults feel that his image and messages are applicable to adults as well as children. For every 10 adults polled, 6 said they were “very likely” or “likely” to act on his advice.
After 27 years, McGruff remains a reliable source of crime prevention information. Retirees (67 percent) and homemakers (70 percent) are the most likely demographic groups to say that they would act on his advice. Furthermore, adults who view McGruff as a credible spokesman (62 percent) are more likely to act on his advice.
But it is not just adults who find McGruff’s advice useful. According to the survey, teens also showed strong recognition of McGruff: 79 percent know him without being prompted with his name, and when prompted with his name, 92 percent of teens recognized him.
Although teens are notorious for not listening to authority figures, 7 out of 10 said that they would be “likely,” “very likely,” or “extremely likely” to listen to McGruff’s important information, tips, or advice.
Last but not least, children ages 8 to 12show a strong recognition of McGruff. Nearly 8 in 10 said they knew who he was without being prompted with his name. When prompted with his name, 93 percent reported that they knew McGruff. And kids are very likely to listen to McGruff’s advice: 8 in 10 were very likely to listen to McGruff’s advice on important crime prevention issues.
“Delete cyberbullying. Don’t write it. Don’t forward it.”
One of the most pressing crime prevention issues for young people is cyberbullying. Young people use the Internet more than ever. Most have access to the Internet at home, at school, and at friends’ houses. They use the Internet to talk to friends, gather information for reports, create their own Web pages, look up sports scores, and check out movie times. Time spent online is also a big part of their social lives. E-mailing and chatting with friends is one of the most common online activities. But as in many other social situations, some kids bully other kids while online. Cyberbullying takes place online and through text messages sent to cell phones. Cyberbullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, or even anonymous users, but most often they know their victims. Both boys and girls bully online, although they tend to do so in different ways. Boys bully by sending messages of a sexual nature or by threatening to fight or hurt someone. Girls bully more often by spreading rumors or by sending e-mail or text messages that make fun of someone or that promise to exclude others. Victims of cyberbullying may experience many of the same emotional effects as children who are bullied in person.
Recently, the NCPC commissioned a national online survey of middle and high school students aged 13 to 17 on cyberbullying. This study, conducted by Harris Interactive, set out to determine how teens define cyberbullying, to explore their experiences with the problem, to understand teens’ emotional and behavioral reactions, and to probe the feelings of teens on the most effective ways to prevent cyberbullying. The survey found the following results:
- About 4 in 10 teens experienced cyberbullying at least one time in the last year.
- Girls report having been cyberbullied more than boys—a rate of 51 percent to 37 percent.
- Only about 10 percent of teens who experienced cyberbullying had talked to their parents about it.
- Teens see the most effective strategy to stop cyberbullying as a combination of using online blocking technology and taking personal responsibility, refusing to pass cyberbullying messages to others, and telling their friends and the cyberbully to stop.
- Nearly 6 in 10 teens said cyberbullies do not see their actions as a “big deal.”
Results of the survey helped shape a new ad campaign from the NCPC. Radio advertising, viral video, and Web banners reach kids where they consume their media most—online and on the radio. New response pieces accompany the messages from McGruff and the NCPC. These pieces are available at http://www.ncpc.org/teens/cyberbullying.php and include downloadable tips for kids and parents on dealing with cyberbullying. The teen piece explains how teens are cyberbullied and how victims react, and it also offers tips on preventing cyberbullying and what else teens can do to keep safe online. The adult component offers statistics and information regarding cyberbullying, how to take action against this problem, and where to go for more information.
Cyberbullying is a new aspect of bullying, a major social problem that, left unchecked, can have huge implications for young people, leaving emotional scars that can remain with many of them later in life. By tackling cyberbullying, the latest incarnation of an age old problem, we can help make sure that our children grow up in a healthy, positive environment that will enable their best qualities—especially their self-esteem—to thrive.
Identity Theft Poses a Real Problem for Consumers
The NCPC is also leading a campaign against identity theft. This troubling crime is in the news every day, whether someone is arrested for stealing social security numbers and illegally obtaining credit cards or institutions lose account information, exposing customers to the possibility of fraud.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Most of us do not realize how often our everyday actions put us at risk for identity theft. The numbers of victims are staggering and enough to cause concern and fear for any individual. The NCPC wants to empower the public to take preventive measures to lessen the devastating effects of this very serious crime. The NCPC believes that prevention is the best tool available to fight it.
The NCPC released identity theft prevention television public service announcements (PSAs) to place prevention at the forefront in the fight againstidentity theft. The PSAs feature McGruff showing viewers how identity thieves obtain personal information and what practical steps to take to protect critical information. The NCPC added to the initiative by providing radio PSAs. A free brochure on how to prevent identity theft and other resources are available at www.weprevent.org .
These PSAs demonstrate the commitment of the NCPC by showing that each individual can help “Take a Bite out of Crime.” There are myriad ways to avoid identity theft, including putting mail on hold when out of town, paying bills online through secure sites, and dropping mail off only at U.S. Postal Service mailboxes. Additionally, victims of identity theft can call the Identity Theft Toll-Free Hotline established by the Federal Trade Commission at 877-IDTHEFT. The hotline serves as a central contact for identity theft victims to report their problems and receive helpful information.
Preventing Identity Theft: A Guide for Consumers confronts identity theft head on and tells readers what they can do to prevent it. This booklet provides facts and figures and describes various types of identity crime, then offers several suggestions for consumers on how to avoid becoming victims. For those unlucky enough to have their identities stolen, the publication provides step-by-step instructions for recovery and repair in the wake of theft. Anyone interested can download Preventing Identity Theft at www.ncpc.org or get a free copy by calling the NCPC Fulfillment Center at 800-627-2911.
McGruff is also busy on another front: fighting cybercrime, one of the largest problems facing homes, schools, and businesses today. Led by the NCPC, the Chief Marketing Officer Council, and the Forum to Advance Mobile Experience, the “Take A Bite Out Of Cyber Crime” campaign (www.bytecrime.org) teaches millions of consumers how to identify and protect themselves against such threats as computer viruses, worms, spam, spyware, phishing, identity theft, and online predators.
The Web site features cybersafety checklists and special tip sheets on how to keep hardware devices protected and wireless activity safe. Visitors to the Web site can also download McGruff’s booklet Mind What You Do Online, which offers various ways to stay safe online at home, at school, or at work. The booklet and tip sheets are available as PDF downloads that readers are invited to print and give away to help protect the communities they serve. Program sponsor McAfee has also included a short instructional video on phishing. The video teaches people how to spot a scam and what to do if they think they have become victims. Comcast and Wal-Mart stores have partnered to air a series of PSAs reminding viewers to take a few simple steps to keep themselves, their families, and their businesses safe from cybercrime. The support of corporate sponsors Comcast, Intel, McAfee, VeriSign, and Walmart.com has made this program possible. Signing up on the Web site allows subscribers to stay informed of future happenings, including the launch of the Junior Cyberguards later this year.■