Expert offers tips to parents after recent child abductions tied to online activity

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HIGH POINT, N.C. — Remote learning and more devices in the hands of young people have opened the door to online predators.

“Children who are being recruited and groomed online has absolutely exploded during COVID,” said Pam Strickland, the founder and CEO of NC Stop Human Trafficking. She told FOX8 predators are taking advantage of children oversharing during the pandemic. “Their whole social life is online mostly likely and so basically every part of their life is online right now.”

The North Carolina SBI Computer Crimes Unit and the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force reports a record-breaking year in 2020. Investigations and arrests doubled between 2019 and 2020. Special agents looked into more than 9,300 cyber tips such as inappropriate messages between an adult and child online.

Predators try to build trust with every message.

“That predator can reach out and say, ‘I’ll listen,'” Strickland said. “‘Let’s be there for each other.'”

Predators use common apps like Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat under a fake name. Some use more unknown apps where the user can stay anonymous like Omegle, Whisper or Emerald Chat. All are accessible online if the website isn’t blocked.

Most messages start off innocent.

“Very gradually will move and eventually perhaps ask for sexually explicit pictures,” she said.

These pictures may be used to their advantage to get children to send more or even meet in person.

“We need to be talking to our kids about healthy relationships not only in person, but also healthy relationships online,” Strickland said.

As students are left catching up with friends and classmates online, Davidson County Sheriff Richie Simmons warns they may never know who’s really on the other side of the screen. He said parents need to take action before it may be too late.

“They have no right to privacy in your home,” he said. “You need to be in their business.”

Strickland recommends setting rules in the home.

“Laptops are always in room like the family room and that phones don’t spend the night in a child’s room,” she said.

If you notice an app is unfamiliar on your child’s device ask them about it. Parental control software is available to filter unsafe websites on your child’s device

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