Online predators have long been a concern for parents and law enforcement, but the ease with which those predators connect with children may be surprising, even in this digital day and age.
The FBI says it’s not just computers, but cell phones, iPods – anything that can connect your child to the internet – that could put them in harm’s way and in the clutches of an internet predator.
And today, the definition of a predator has changed, according to Special Agent Dan Evans.
“Online predators now are everybody. They’re not just the creepy-looking guy that everyone associates [the term] with. A 13-year-old girl can be your online predator,” Evans explained.
With the trend of “sexting” among teens, or exchanging sexually explicit photos or text messages, a new culture has grown.
Evans says today’s teenagers are extremely comfortable sending naked and provocative pictures without thinking of the consequences.
Once those photos are sent, the “sextortion” begins.
“You’ve sent 10 pictures of yourself naked. I’m on your Facebook page and I’ll send the pictures to every single one of your friends,” explained Evans.
Evans says sexting is difficult to police.
“I don’t know how many calls we get a day about how my child got a picture or someone is sending pictures of my child to other people. It’s impossible for us to watch all that,” he said.
With technology everywhere, at everyone’s fingertips, the cycle is seemingly never-ending.
“You can do this all from the confines of your house. Parents don’t usually know about it,” said Evans.
Posing as a 13-year-old girl in an online chat room, the special agent showed NBC 7 San Diego how quickly and easily a predator could reach a victim.
In literally a matter of seconds, the special agent began receiving messages, including one from an online user who identified himself as a 45-year-old man.
“I said I was 13 and he continued to talk to me,” said Evans.
The conversations quickly turned from friendly to sexual.
“What does he do? He wants to talk about sex, and he’ll probably start slow and then he’ll ask what I’ve done,” he said.
And just like that, an online encounter turns dangerous.
It is a felony for children under 18 to receive naked pictures on their cell phones. So, authorities say this is a serious conversation that parents need to have with their children. Authorities also suggest parents learn the basics of new technologies to keep tabs on their online activity of their children.
Just last month, San Diego police announced that criminal charges would be filed in a sexting ring involving dozens of local students from several high schools and one middle school.
Investigators said that particular sexting ring case began with about a dozen teenage girls sending nude photos of themselves to their boyfriends. The boyfriends then passed the pictures on to their friends, creating a web of explicit – and illegal – photo sharing.