PITTSBURGH — We have a warning for you if your child enjoys playing online video games. Predators target children who play on these platforms. The FBI says it’s not a matter of if but when your child will encounter a predator – if you haven’t set parental controls. Find out how to protect your children. 11 Investigations Angie Moreschi has a story every parent should know.
It’s not IF but WHEN
Online predators know that children often play these games unsupervised. They hide behind fake profiles looking for opportunities to lure them into compromising situations.
From Roblox to Fortnite, kids like 5-year-old Shayna Gerson and her 7-year-old brother Michael can’t get enough of these online games.
“As soon as he gets home from school, he wants to jump on it and start playing with friends,” mom Jill Gerson said.
Gerson tries to stay close to watch what’s going on and has had to step in a few times when she’s heard inappropriate language, but says she should probably do more.
“It’s worrying because sometimes I don’t know who he’s playing with or what’s going on in there,” she said.
Unfortunately, there is more going on than many realize.
We spoke with 7-year-old Michael to ask if anyone had ever approached him on these platforms:
ANGIE: Have you ever had a weirdo or stranger approach you?
ANGIE: What did they say?
MICHAEL: They know where I live.
ANGIE: Were you scared?
MICHAEL: Aah, sort of.
ANGIE: What did you do?
MICHAEL: I just left the game.
ANGIE: Did you tell your mom?
Thank goodness it ended there, but it’s mind-blowing for parents to hear how close these encounters are coming.
“Super scary. Very scary,” Gerson said.
FBI: It’s not a game
The FBI produced a public service announcement to warn parents of the dangers.
“This is not a game. This could happen to your child,” the narrator warns, as the video shows children playing video games with chat messages from strangers appearing.
“I always tell parents that if you don’t have parental controls or you don’t watch what your kids are doing online, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they meet. one of those predators,” said Tim Wolford. , FBI Supervisory Special Agent.
Wolford leads the Violent Crimes Against Children Task Force in Pittsburgh and says predators create fake profiles all the time to lure children.
“It could just be flattery where they say to the kid, ‘Hey, your profile picture is really nice. I’d like another picture.’ And then they’ll start to slowly guide them down this line of sending more and more inappropriate images and content,” Wolford explained.
A major clue that something is fishy is when kids are told to switch to another platform or a private chat room. Once this happens, things often escalate into what the FBI calls “sextortion” and children often feel trapped.
“Worst-case scenario what happens is once they have that photo, they know the kids wouldn’t want to go free – then they threaten that kid, ‘Hey, I’m going to put this on. available to your parents’ or ‘I’ll make it available to all your friends’ unless you send me even more inappropriate material.
TIPS to protect your children
The first thing you can do to block predators is to set strict parental controls.
We went through Michael’s Fortnite game settings with his mum and adjusted the controls so that strangers can no longer contact him – an important step to give his mum a bit more peace of mind.
“He loves it and I’d hate to take it away from him completely, but at the same time you always have to watch,” Gerson said.
It is also important to talk about it with your child. Let them know that there are strangers who might try to trick them into sending inappropriate photos, and if anyone approaches them, they should tell you immediately. Be sure to tell your child that he won’t have any problems and that even if he’s embarrassed or thinks he’s made a mistake, it’s still safe to talk to you.
More FBI tips for protecting children from online predators
- Find out what websites, software, games and apps your child uses.
- Check their profiles and posts on social media and games. Have conversations about what to say or share.
- Explain to your children that once images or comments are posted online, they can be shared with anyone and never really go away.
- Make sure your children use privacy settings to restrict access to their online profiles.
- Tell your kids to be extra careful when communicating with someone online they don’t know in real life.
- Encourage children to choose appropriate screen names and create strong passwords.
- Make it a rule with your kids that they can’t date someone they met online without your knowledge and supervision.
- Emphasize to your kids that making any type of online threat, even if they think it’s a joke, is a crime.
- Immediately report any inappropriate contact between an adult and your child to law enforcement. Also notify the site they were using.
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