Predators target children online at alarming rates during pandemic

Updated: Jun. 12, 2020 at 4:56 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 Investigates found predators preyed on our children at alarming rates during Ohio’s stay-at-home order.

And our children are still at high risk online.

March and April this year were some of the worst months a local task force has ever seen.

Ohio ICAC, Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, predicted a big upswing in cyber tips during the beginning of the pandemic when we were all stuck at home.

And sadly, they were right.

Now they're working from behind the keyboard to catch the bad guys.

Last year Ohio ICAC received just over 1,800 cyber tips from March through May, and this year in that time more than 3,200 tips have come in.

That’s a nearly 80 percent increase from a year ago in cyber tips reporting possible child sex crimes and pornography.

“We didn't stop working during the quarantine months, and we've seen a lot, especially from internet service providers,” said Carl Sullivan, the director of Ohio ICAC.

“We've had way more cyber tips, way more activity on social media when it comes to travelers. Not only are kids bored, but predators are bored too,” he said.

One of their latest cases involves 34-year-old Ryan Eugene White of Ohio.

He faces initial charges of attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, importuning and possessing criminal tools.

Prosecutors say White, a convicted sex offender, traveled to meet a 15-year-old boy for sex.

But luckily that boy was really one of their investigators.

“Because that's one of the biggest things, is not only are we catching them for committing these crimes, but the prevention we're insuring by them traveling to meet our investigators instead of an actual child in the neighborhood in northeast Ohio,” Sullivan said.

Fake profiles on social media help catch predators sometimes.

Cyber tips help lead the way in other cases.

The first thing they look for is an IP address.

“So that we can find out where they're at, so we can either go arrest them or execute a search warrant at the residence,” Sullivan said.

Last year Ohio ICAC received 7,500 cyber tips for the year.

Sullivan believes they'll hit well over 10,000 cyber tips this year, especially because of this uptick during the pandemic.

“You know parents have to be vigilant about what their kids are doing on social media. Whether that's talking to their new friends, activating new games or social media platforms they've never been on before. So that parents can monitor, not only, 'hey, who's this new friend? But also, are you going to meet someone?'” Sullivan said.

The risk is high right now, with kids still home from school and spending time online on their phones, tablets and computers.

You can protect your child by knowing their ID and password to all of their social media accounts and keeping their computer in an open area of your home.

Ohio ICAC launched in 1999 with funding from the United States Department of Justice.

The task force is made up of city, county, state and federal law enforcement authorities working to catch and prosecute child predators and pornographers.

If you want to report suspicious behavior, 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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