How the pandemic has increased the risk of children being targeted online by predators

U.S.

INDIANAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — Predator catcher vigilante groups are popping up around the country.

The groups set people up online by claiming to be underage with a fake profile, and then meet the person and call them out on Facebook Live. It’s controversial – and police say it’s dangerous and can even hurt criminal prosecutions.

The Predator Catchers Indianapolis Facebook group has gotten attention because one of their videos led to the arrest of a high school band teacher.

Members of the group hope their videos will remind parents to be careful and aware of their children’s activity online.

“Always monitor your kids’ devices. Have those uncomfortable talks with your kids. It’s real. It’s happening. Kids are out here. You might think your kid is too young, but they know. They are aware of it. The internet is a scary place,” warned Shanda, a decoy who volunteers with the group.

Experts say the child predator situation online is actually getting worse because of the pandemic.

“The fact that everyone is now online more than ever, we are seeing an increase in potential cases,” Special Agent Kevin Sibley with the Dept. of Homeland Security said.

Sibley has been working child sex cases for 15 years.

“The predators are the most computer-savvy people you will meet. Tik Tok, Instagram. These are two we see a lot of. Snapchat is another one we see a lot of kids using. These are apps where predators are very active. But I will say everyday a new app comes out and the predators are there as well,” Sibley said.

Sibley says parents should not be afraid to go through their kids’ computers and phones.

One preventative step is to take the devices away at bedtime. Most importantly, Sibley recommends talking to your children about the dangers of talking to strangers online.

Keeping an open, honest dialogue could be the best defense of all.

“It’s amazing how prevalent this is. And how parents thought, this was never going to happen to me,” Sibley said.

For tips on how to protect your children, visit https://www.ice.gov/topics/iGuardians.

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