Cyber predators lurk in all corners of the Internet and can even confront your children online. Now, there's now a new campaign that shows just how big this problem is in Central Ohio.
“Last year, we opened up 4,000 cases of child exploitation, with 50 arrests, right here in Columbus,” says Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent, Steve Francis.
Homeland Security Investigations just launched a radio campaign to better protect your children. They’re the most vulnerable during the summer because of the increased downtime.
“They are online more, they're playing games, they're going through social networking sights and potentially ending up in some sort of online relationship with someone who may intend to harm them,” says Columbus HSI Special Agent in Charge Nathan Emery. He says predators use the summer months to "groom" relationships with kids by finding common websites with common interests-- like music, sports, and movies.
“The predator might take weeks, months, even years to set this child up to have the end goal, which is to have a one-on-one physical interaction with them,” says Emery.
Agents say the grooming process happens more often now, compared to during the school year.
Something else HSI's Cyber team works to uncover is "catfishing," where predators set up a fake identity to trap a child.
HSI says that Randall Roberts of Columbus used both catfishing and grooming to lure a teenage girl into having sex with him. He's now serving more than 15 years in prison.
Undercover HSI agents who focus solely on internet crimes against children say they're work is 24/7. Many of them are parents and say a simple conversation now, could save your child down the road.
“You may have had this conversation with your kids 100 times, you need to be careful online, you need to not meet up with people you meet online. You need to watch yourselves, but do it one more time,” says Emery.
HSI will launch Project I-guardian this fall, where agents will visit schools and youth groups across central Ohio, warning them about the dangers online.