FBI warns parents about potential spike in cyber crimes as kids begin e-learning

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020
FBI warns of possible spike in cyber crimes targeting kids
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The FBI says the potential for child cyber crimes could be even greater this school year as children spend more time online for remote learning.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- As children spend more time online for remote learning the FBI says the potential for child cybercrimes could be even greater this school year.

Cyber experts say the increase in online activity is an opportunity for child predators.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Wesley Tagtmeyer said criminals will likely try to capitalize on the pandemic and start relationships with kids who are spending more time online.

"It happens through various social media applications where they meet online predators, they begin an online relationship and then the predators start to take advantage of the kids," Tagtmeyer said.

According to Tagtmeyer, criminals often pose as someone younger to earn a child's trust. Then the grooming process starts. They could eventually ask a child to send inappropriate pictures and videos. And later, they often use those images to extort kids, threatening that they'll expose the child to their family if they don't provide more graphic images.

"Predators may be working from home, and therefore they're online more often and there's no oversight as to their activities from home," Tagtmeyer said. "So that adds to the potential for more victimizations."

It's a harsh reality for Eliza McCoy, the director of outreach for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She has two daughters, ages 5 and 10, who will both be learning remotely this year.

"I'm most concerned about the level of access that individuals will have to them through these online platforms," said McCoy. "As a mom, I'm also very concerned about my ability to supervise every day, hands-on while I'm also trying to balance telework full-time at home."

Both McCoy and Special Agent Tagtmeyer said parents need to be proactive to keep their kids safe.

"One of the things we recommend is keeping computers, online gaming devices and mobile devices in common areas of the house," said Tagtmeyer. "Rooms where parents may walk in from time to time so that they can be monitoring their children's online activity. But of course in these times, that's not always feasible."

One of the most important things parents can do is talk to their kids about online safety.

"What did you do online today? What was it like? Did anything make you uncomfortable? Did you enjoy a certain activity?" McCoy said. "Balance the types of questions that you're asking so that kids don't walk away with a level of fear."

According to child safety experts, it's also important to remind children that anyone they meet online is a stranger, even if they think it's another kid.

Resources to help protect your child against cybercrimes:

  • MissingKids.org
  • FBI Crime Against Children/Online Predators page
  • FBI's Safe Online Surfing page
  • FBI's Stop Sextortion campaign