LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Online predators are capitalizing on children with unlimited access to the internet through social media and online gaming. Law enforcement agencies are working hundreds of child exploitation cases across Kentucky - and those are just a fraction of the thousands of complaints they receive every year.
If you think your child could never be in that situation, think again - the detectives working these cases say it happens more often than most people expect.
"Create an account for a 12-year-old girl or boy and make it public," said Jeremy Wright, a Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI Louisville division. "Then, just sit back and watch and see how long it takes for strange people, random predators to try and befriend that account. The messages they get are very disturbing."
Predators use social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat, as well as video game systems like PlayStation and Xbox to make connections with kids. While the chats may start out innocent, they can quickly turn into something more sinister - like sextortion, where adults convince children to send them sexual photos and videos.
Police are actively working to track down and catch predators before things get that far, but as a family member or guardian, there are things you can do to protect your kids, too.
According to the FBI, the best thing parents can do is keep communication open and talk about their online activity.
What you can do:
- Know what apps, websites and gaming systems your child uses - and know how they work.
- Limit screen time and request device usage reports so you know when your child is online.
- Use parental controls or set up age parameters on your child's devices so they can't download potentially dangerous apps or programs.
- Report any inappropriate contact between an adult and your child to law enforcement immediately.
How to talk about online safety:
- Talk about what is (and isn't) appropriate to share online.
- Warn them about the dangers of talking to strangers online, especially if they ask to meet in person.
- Remind them that once something is put online, it's out there forever.
- Urge them to create strong passwords to their accounts and set their privacy settings to the most secure levels.
- Encourage them to come to you or another trusted adult if they feel confused or uncomfortable about something they've seen or experienced.
If you find out that your child is receiving sextortion threats, remind them that they are not alone - thousands are victimized by this scam. Stop all interaction with the other person and contact law enforcement.
The FBI has a Safe Online Surfing program for kids in 3rd through 8th grade that teaches them about navigating the internet safely.
For additional information on sextortion - what it is, how to talk to your kids about it and more, click here.