WILLOWICK, OH (WOIO) - Playing video games could put your child at risk to online predators.
A shocked mom came to Cleveland 19 after she says her daughter was targeted.
Investigator Sara Goldenberg found there are more predators than you might think hiding behind their keyboards and game controllers -- shocking cases from across the country show the dark side of gaming.
One in five children between 10 and 17 years of age reported receiving an unwanted sexual solicitation online, according to a study from the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
One in 33 children received an aggressive sexual solicitation, meaning the solicitor asked to meet them somewhere, called them on the telephone or sent them mail, money or gifts.
And it may surprise you to find that only a fraction of those cases were reported to authorities.
In some of those cases, children may have been playing video games on the Internet.
An 11-year-old Florida girl was recently kidnapped by a child sex predator she unknowingly met while playing Minecraft.
A 14-year-old Mississippi boy was kidnapped by two men he met on the video game Discord.
It all starts innocently enough, when a child plays a video game connected to the internet.
Ten-year-old Brooke Storey of Willowick loves playing Roblox.
Her mom Kristen said a series of shocking messages sent to her daughter meant it was “game over” for her daughter.
Brooke plays video games on her laptop and through an app on her phone.
Kristen noticed Brooke was buried in her cell phone a lot, so Kristen checked her calls and texts, but found nothing.
“One night when she went to bed, I decided to go through her apps. And I discovered a game Roblox. And I noticed she had about 70 friends, and a majority of them were men,” Storey said.
Then she discovered the messages. Kristen read us just a few of 35 messages that an unknown user sent her daughter.
“Hi how are you, hi girl. You're so beautiful, you're so cute. I wanna play with you,” she read.
“C’mon, I wanna see you. Play with me, hi beautiful,” the messages continued.
Brooke’s profile doesn’t even have a photo on it.
Brooke said she ignored the messages until she says she felt like she had to answer.
Brooke said the messages scared her “because I didn’t know them.”
That was enough for Kristen to ban Brooke from the video game.
And she didn’t stop there -- she called the police and notified her school too.
“People see that innocence, and that is how they prey. And if parents don't put a stop to it, these children will keep being nice and make these friends. And for all we know they meet up and start gaming and then they disappear,” Storey said.
An Ohio task force is fighting online predators like this every day.
Over just four days on Memorial Day weekend, police arrested 22 men in an undercover operation by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, known as ICAC.
The task force has made 183 arrests so far in 2018 and 2,603 arrests in Ohio since 2003.
We talked to them about how widespread this problem is becoming.
Carl Sullivan is the director of ICAC.
Cleveland19 showed him a transcript of the messages Brooke got on Roblox.
“I don't know how old the individual is, but you can tell they're not there to play the game. They see someone that's a certain age range, and however old this person is, you can tell that they're going to try to get to talk to them, try to get to know them,” Sullivan said.
He said Kristen did the right thing by calling police.
After parents do that, the task force can get to work.
“We could go find out who their screen name is, send subpoenas do search warrants and determine a physical person,” Sullivan said.
ICAC doesn’t just wait for parents to report cases like this.
Prosecutors and police officers pose as young teens online to catch predators before it's too late.
“We catch a lot of them,” Sullivan said.
“You'd be surprised how many are in the county and how many people have traveled here to have sex with kids. And the good news is we're not only stopping that crime, but maybe preventing a future crime from them actually taking advantage of a child,” he said.
Storey is just relieved she caught the messages before things could have gotten much worse.
“These stories, they happen. And I'm not taking the chance that it's mine,” she said.
Ohio ICAC recommends parents talk to your child about online dangers, including child predators.
They say you should know your child's ID and password to all of their social media and gaming accounts, and tell him or her you will randomly check them.
And keep your child's computer in an open area of your home, not in your child's bedroom.
Roblox offers parental controls for the game.
On a page for parents, the company says it has moderators “working around the clock” to address any player concerns.
Cleveland19 reached out to Roblox, and they responded:
“Roblox’s mission is to inspire imagination and it is our responsibility to provide a safe and civil platform for play. As safety is our top priority -- we have robust systems and parental controls in place to protect our platform and its users.” -Roblox Spokesperson