Online predators target children forced to communicate virtually during Michigan stay-at-home order

Children spending more time online due to coronavirus (COVID-19)

DETROIT – Our children are spending more time online doing school work, connecting with family and friends and simply having fun, and unfortunately, parents are not the only ones who know that. Federal investigators say online predators know that too.

UPDATE -- April 29, 2020: Michigan coronavirus cases up to 40,399; Death toll now at 3,670

“We’re all missing our relationships that we have. Predators are aware of that, and they’re more than happy to fill that void,” said Dave Alley, special agent for Homeland Security Investigations.

Alley, who works in the child exploitation unit for Homeland Security said education is the best step to protect our children from predators. That’s why Homeland Security Investigations has put together a video to teach parents how to spot a problem with their children and internet predators while at home.

He said the video focuses on what predators do to try to convince children to speak with them, to try to convince children they are their friends and to try to intimidate children.

Alley said they also go over popular apps that are used by children because those are often what predators target.

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"The predators will flock to what is popular with children," Alley said.

According to Homeland Security Investigations the following apps are used by teens and preteens:

  • 96% use YouTube
  • 72% use Instagram
  • 60% use SnapChat
  • 51% use Facebook

Other apps that are popular with kids include Kik and TikTok.

Alley said to check parental controls on the apps children use and make sure they are turned on to the highest setting. He said TikTok, for example, has robust parental controls that can be used to restrict who reaches out to children, who sees their videos, pictures or can message them.

"TikTok is a good reminder of why predators are so frustrating. This should be just a great fun app for children to produce, you know, fun videos for each other for their friends or their family, but like any social media application, where pictures videos, images are shared, we're seeing children be solicited and abused on it," Alley said.

Alley recommends talking to your children about online strangers and that someone could pretend to be another child.

Review and approve all games and apps before your kids can download them.

Check privacy settings are set for gaming systems, tablets and phones.

He also said to keep phones and tablets out of bedrooms and basements or areas that are out of sight.

"Phones in the areas that aren't open to the rest of the family are typically a recipe for disaster," Alley said.

According to the HSI video for parents, nearly one third of children have a computer in bedroom, 66% of middle schoolers regularly use a smartphone and nine out of 10 kids ages eight to 16 admit to viewing porn online either intentionally or unintentionally. One in five teens have engaged in sexting.

Alley said some other kids could watch the video with their parents, but he recommends moms and dads view it first because there is some mature content.

Click here to check it out.

Project iGuardian, a program through Homeland Security Investigations, works to keep teens and children safe from online predators using education and awareness. For more information, click here.

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