FBI warning parents: predators exploiting kids who are stuck at home from school

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The FBI is warning parents to be extra vigilant about online predators during this pandemic. Obviously, with schools closed, many more kids are home and at computers as online schools, and predators are looking to exploit that.

Special Agent Renee Green with San Diego’s FBI branch said:

“With everyone distancing themselves physically, there’s more of a tendency to reach out for some sort of social connection via the internet.”

Agent Green acknowledge the difficulty in paying more attention to what kids are doing online, even if parents are home with them.

It sounds like it would be simple: parents are working from home, and their kids are in the home, so naturally they have endless amounts of time to make sure the kids are safe. But anyone who is actually in this situation (me included) knows that it isn’t that easy.

It isn’t even a little easy. We are being asked to focus on our work while at home, and at the same time, we are being asked to homeschool our children and focus on them as well when it isn’t school time.

It’s a lot to ask to have completely divided attention at all times, but it’s important to make sure our children are being kept safe.

Agent Green continued:

“It’s difficult for parents at this time because many of us are being advised to work from home, and when we’re working from home we’re not able to give as much attention to our children as we would during our leisure time.”

The FBI is trying to remind families of what to watch for with children on the internet and how to help kids safely use devices.

The video below is geared for children in grades three-eight and is about safely navigating the internet.

One way predators work is by getting close to the children on a social media platform by asking them questions, giving them compliments, and appearing to be their friend. Then they will ask for sexually explicit photos or videos.

When a child gives in, they could possibly be threatened into giving even more by the predator threatening to publicly post the images.

The threats could even lead to the child meeting the predator in person, lockdown or no lockdown.

An FBI news release on the subject said:

“Individuals may coerce victims into providing sexually explicit images or videos of themselves, often in compliance with offenders’ threats to post the images publicly or send the images to victims’ friends and family.

Other offenders may make casual contact with children online, gain their trust, and introduce sexual conversation that increases in egregiousness over time. Ultimately this activity may result in maintaining an online relationship that includes sexual conversation and the exchange of illicit images, to eventually physically meeting the child in-person.” 

The FBI suggests that parents keep open communication with their kids, and for them to stay engaged with what the kids are doing online. They also say to watch for physical and emotional signs of distress, which could mean they have already begun talking with a predator online.

FBI #StopSextortion awareness graphic with stock image of boy on stairs looking at phone with the following text: The Internet connects your kids to the world ... do you know who in the world is connecting to them? #StopSextortion

Agent Green also said:

“When parents are able to engage with their children and have them use devices in common areas of the house versus taking devices into a bedroom or a separate room, children are less likely to engage with predators or take pictures they wouldn’t show their parents.

Typically when children are being exploited online, they tend to feel they’re alone and this is something that’s only happening to them. That’s why we’re encouraging people to tell their kids that these sorts of online behaviors are not the child’s fault and they will not get in trouble for reporting it to a trusted adult.”

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To report an online child exploitation, contact your local police and the FBI. Information can be found on their website here.

Another FBI release also spoke on the importance of communication between parents and kids:

“During these uncertain conditions, where time with other adults and caregivers has increased immensely, parents/guardians should communicate with their children about appropriate contact with adults and watch for any changes in behavior, including an increase in nightmares, withdrawn behavior, angry outbursts, anxiety, depression, not wanting to be left alone with an individual, and sexual knowledge.”

Parents, the FBI asks you to remember to check up on games and apps before you allow children to download them. Parental controls are available on smart phones and tablets to make sure you have the opportunity to do so before they are put on your child’s device. Privacy settings can also be altered to make it as safe as possible, such as shutting off location services.

Children may think that their social media accounts are “theirs,” but they absolutely are not. Parents should have passwords to any and all accounts that belong to the children, and they should know that their parents can and will be checking their accounts periodically to monitor and maintain safety. 

As mentioned before, communication is key. Kids need to know that they can talk to their parents and that they won’t get in trouble for reporting someone who has done something wrong or asked the child to do so. Additionally, they should understand it’s important to report to their parents if a friend has told them there is someone online attempting to exploit them.

If you need to file a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), call 1-800-843-5678 or go online at www.cybertipline.org.

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