Warning about elaborate schemes behind child pornography

Adults tricking minors through social media

There's been an historic rise in the distribution of child pornography in recent years, and a lot of it is coming from adults who are tricking minors into taking and sending photos and videos of themselves.

Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz has a warning about the elaborate schemes and terrifying threats children are facing online.

With the advancement of computers, smartphones and social media, police are finding and busting more child sexual predators than ever before. In each case, they uncover predators distributing deceptions that every parent and child should know about.

Smartphones have changed the game when it comes to child pornography. It's never been easier to snap, send or post a picture, and predators know it. Federal court dockets are filling up with cases in which children are victimized.

"The sad part about sex offenders is that the recidivism rate is very high," Dr. Gerald Shiener, a forensic psychiatry expert, said. "They're not often caught, but once they offend, they tend to re-offend."

Shiener is an expert in criminal psychology. He said each disturbing sex offender case also provides valuable information for parents looking to protect their children.

Two weeks ago, Lincoln Park resident Edward Reardon was sentenced in federal court for creating disturbing deceptions to try to lure children on Facebook.

Reardon was sending personal messages to teenagers and, eventually, to an undercover police officer. He sent photos of $100, $50 and $1 bills and offered $200 to meet a 15-year-old and $2,500 for naked photos. He offered to buy a red dress and told one teenager to drug her friend's Kool-Aid, and to take photos of her after she passed out.

"Never add folks. Never talk to anybody," parent Yero Bain said. "If you see something that makes you uncomfortable, come and talk to us."

Parents never think it will happen to their children, but Reardon talked to many children before being busted.

"I beg of you with a sincere and humble heart to please impose the absolute minimum the law allows," Reardon wrote the judge. "I am confident that I'll live the rest of my life a better person who cares for others."

"For that person to write a letter saying that, 'All better. It's gone. I fixed it,' probably smacks, at least to a judge, of someone who is not being true," Local 4 legal expert Neil Rockind said.

Reardon was locked up for 15 years.

Another lesson for teens and parents comes from a federal search warrant that was unsealed last week. A home in Belleville was raided and officials found a plan to deceive young girls.

According to court records, a 31-year-old man created a profile with a photo of a young boy with short, blond hair who appeared to be about 13 or 14 years old. He was sending private Facebook messages to young girls, eventually asking to exchange naked photos.

When one girl said she couldn't send a photo because she was using her mother's phone, the man offered to buy her a phone and pay the bill, reminding the teenager not to tell her mother.

"Especially if they are not aware of the stuff on social media, it's very easy for them to get tricked," parent Steve Murray said.

Despite the shock and fear from parents and teens, and the long prison terms for those who get caught, new cases come into the courthouse every week.

Authorities said the predators' playbook is constantly changing, and the best way to protect children is to convince them that strangers online are just as dangerous as strangers in person. Parents who are suspicious of someone online should report that person to police.