Warning for parents: More kids online means risks for child predators are up

Published: Mar. 23, 2020 at 10:51 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - An important warning for parents right now. More kids are home, passing their time on tablets, computers, and playing video games after Ohio issued a “stay-at-home” order due to the coronavirus.

19 Investigates found more child predators may be taking advantage of them during this time.

But a local task force is on full alert during the coronavirus pandemic.

One in five children between 10 and 17 years old reported unwanted sexual advances online, according to a study from the Crimes Against Children Research Center.

A local task force is fighting online predators like this every day. And they're not stopping now.

Parents and children are stuck inside, trying to make the best of unprecedented times.

Thousands of kids and teens are heading online for entertainment and some company.

But do you know who they're talking to?

“We’re still working in this crisis and obviously the predators aren’t going to stop. And may be even more prolific,” said Carl Sullivan, the director of Ohio ICAC-- Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, based in Cuyahoga County.

“It's going to be prevalent, there's not much to do,” Sullivan said.

“Kids are going to be bored, predators are going to be bored so we have to be vigilant as well,” he said.

19 Investigates found locally, ICAC made 84 arrests in 2019 and 14 arrests so far this year.

The work of the task force has led to more than 2,000 arrests in Ohio since 2003.

Prosecutors and police officers pose as young teens online to catch predators before it's too late.

They also work off of tips from parents.

“You said your work is not going to stop in this crisis, can you talk about what it is you guys are doing on a daily basis?” Investigative Reporter Sara Goldenberg asked in a video interview.

“We still get tips daily from NCMEC [National Center for Missing & Exploited Children], whether that be a tip from Google or a concerned parent about, you know somebody in the area or a missing child, we’re still going to be answering those calls every day,” Sullivan said.

So what can you do to protect your kids?

Sullivan said talk to them. He said you should know your child's ID and password to all of their social media accounts, and tell him or her you will randomly check them.

And he also suggests keeping your child's computer in an open area of your home, not in your child's bedroom.

“So pay attention to if your kids download new applications you've never seen on their phones before. Pay attention if your kids all of a sudden have new friends on some of these applications,” Sullivan said.

And watch out for video games too.

“Minecraft, Xbox, strangers are going to be playing more video games too. So they're going to be asking users in their area to play, they may be looking for users in a certain area radius. And maybe talk to them about meeting up if they're bored. So that's what parents have to be alarmed about,” Sullivan said.

Disturbing cases like this happen more often than you may think.

“We see predators in all different walks, whether it's social media or on the streets. We know we do an important job, and parents have to pay attention, especially in these times,” Sullivan said.

“Social media is going to be a big outlet and avenue which I think can be a good thing, but also can be a bad thing,” Sullivan said.

If you do find something suspicious, contact your local police.

They'll refer cases to Ohio ICAC.

You can give ICAC a call at (440) 886-5284.

You can also report cyber tips to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children online.

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