I know this is easier said than done but you need to be aware of who your children are interacting with online. Predators are no longer the loser with a trench coat hanging around the school yard. Unfortunately, there are many “respectable” people involved in this activity. They not only go after girls but also pursue boys. According to the FBI, there are an estimated 50,000 predators online at any given moment, all looking for potential victims.

In a Dept. of Justice Report from 2003:

  • 1 in 7 kids, 10 to 17 years old, were sexually solicited online
  • 70% of these solicitations happen on a home computer with the remaining most often happening at a friend’s home.
  • 49% of the children surveyed did not tell anyone about being solicited.  (main reason given for not telling… “I was afraid they would take my computer away”)

Keep in mind that “online” is now more than spending time on the computer. Anymore smart phones and even video games are completely connected to the Internet. Parents need to understand that if there is a platform or venue where communication with children is possible, predators will be there.

The bad news is sexual predators can / will hide behind a false identity. Many are very manipulative with skills and experience that overwhelm any child’s sense of awareness. Predators start with what is referred to as the grooming process. They look for children that have a higher technical skill level than their parents and are emotionally vulnerable. which can be related to personal issues derived from problems at school or home. They use personal issues to befriend the victim and empathize with them while building a fake friendship and fake trust. If a child demonstrates frustration with parents or teachers at school the predator will play on that to their advantage. In many cases the predator will pose as a child the same age and / or gender. Here is a compressed timeline of Predator Grooming tactics:

  • Chat Rooms (based on interest)
  • Look for child oriented screen names
  • Search through social media profiles
  • Strike up a conversation
  • Show interest and gain their trust
  • Build them up (be their friend)

The predator’s ultimate goal is to make personal contact with the intended victim. A child makes it easier for the predator by giving out personal information online including; real name, address, phone number, e-mail address and their school.

The openness of the Internet is actually one of the predator’s best friends. They can access searchable user profiles from Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms. Predators can also look at Social Media profiles for potential victims. Keep in mind that seemingly harmless statements listed on a profile including; school attended, sport played, or even what jersey number worn gives predators more tools to work with. A teen-aged girl innocently posts a picture of her new car in front of her house. To a predator that is a gold mine of information since it could provide what her car looks like, her license plate number, house address, what her house looks like etc.

Once a predator connects with a victim and gains their trust they frequently send pornographic pictures via an IM session or e-mail. Sometimes they send gifts through the mail. They might even provide a toll free phone number or send the victim a cell phone. The goal is to avoid any record of the phone calls showing up on the parent’s phone bill. If the victim tries to cut off communication predators will frequently convince them that they will tell the parents what they have been doing online, etc. In short, the predator will attempt to blackmail the victim into continuing the relationship. Here are Predator Warning Signs:

  • Your child spends a lot more time than usual online.
  • You find porn on the computer.
  • Your child receives phone calls, mail, gifts from people you do not know.
  • Your child withdraws from normal activity.
  • Your child switches screen quickly if you walk up to them while they are online.
  • Your child uses other accounts for e-mail or Instant Messaging.

Not a pretty picture. Talk to your kids about the dangers that exist online and make sure they know to tell you if anyone ever makes them feel uncomfortable.  Help them understand it is not their fault if a predator connects with them. Definitely help them understand they won’t get in trouble when they let you know.

The good news is predators can be identified and caught by law enforcement officials. The best way to catch a predator is to cooperate with law enforcement officials. Many municipalities have special units designed to catch online child predators. You can also report it to the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — they have a form for reporting this type of incident called the Cyber Tip Line.  They will forward that info to law enforcement officials for investigation.

uknowkids.com created an outstanding infographic for Online Predators. Please click the “Infographic” tab at the top of the page. After you look at the infographic please return to the top of the page and click the “Video” tab to watch this excellent video, Protecting Kids from Online Predators. produced by Hartford News 8 – WTNH.

The following Infographic was created by uknowkids.com

uknowkids-internet-predator-infographic-700px

 

Please return to the top of the page and click the “Video” tab to watch Hartford News 8 – WTNHs excellent video on Protecting Kids from Online Predators.

Protecting Kids from Online Predators, produced by Hartford News 8.