CHICAGO (WLS) -- Federal agents are spreading the word about the growing practice of child exploitation on the internet, and Homeland Security Investigations has a program to educate parents and kids about the dangers that lurk online.
The growth of the internet and social media have made it easier for child predators to connect with potential victims, presenting new dangers to kids and new challenges to law enforcement
"Social media and the internet is the playground of 2023, because the predators go where the children go," said Special Agent Steve Moran.
Online, anonymity means predators could be anyone and Moran said no profession or background is the exception.
"Now we're seeing doctors, lawyers, teachers, police officers - we're seeing all walks of life as the offenders," he said.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children first passed 1 million cyber-tips for child sexual abuse material in 2014. By 2022, that number surpassed 32 million. It is still likely just the tip of the iceberg.
"After we do these presentations almost every time we get somebody that comes up and we either get a disclosure from a victim or a friend of a victim, or we get a disclosure from a parent explaining that they went through this, but they didn't know what to do," said Supervisory Special Agent Jennifer Finerty.
Homeland Security Investigation's presentation in Chicago showed specific examples of what to look out for. Agents said currently, sextortion is one of the most troubling trends in the Chicago area.
"They're obtaining an explicit image or video of a child. They are then using that to threaten the child to send more under the threat that they'll release it to their parents or their school or their friends," Moran explained.
Homeland Security Investigations aims to share their presentation with area schools and community groups. If you'd like to have agents come speak, it's a free presentation. All you need to do is reach out to HSI at 630-458-7400 or email@example.com.