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News | Oct. 29, 2020

CID Lookout: Safeguard Children from Online Predators

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, the Army community has spent more
time indoors and social distancing. This change in social behavior has led to an increase in Internet usage.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Cybercrime Unit is reminding parents to safeguard
their children and teenagers against invasions of privacy, cyberbullying, sexting, and other forms of harassment
found online.

“Child predators have always found ways to target children, said Edward LaBarge, Director of
CID’s Major Cybercrime Unit. “However, the Internet has made it extremely easy for these
predators to find, chat with, and meet their victims.”

According to LaBarge, the coronavirus pandemic has increased the use of the Internet among
children through more time on computers, smartphones, gaming systems, and other devices.
Although many children are back to in-person learning, they are still spending more time online
than ever before.

MCU officials encourage parents to take an active role in protecting their children from
dangerous online activities. Regardless of whether it is to learn, play, or communicate, there are
many factors available on the Internet that has the potential to influence children.

LaBarge said there is currently a wide spectrum of age groups being targeted online. However,
there is an increase of targeting toward children under the age of 13.

For this reason, it is not recommended to allow children under the age of 13 years old to have
social media accounts or access to social media applications. LaBarge also recommends to
monitor a child’s online activity and track browser history, text messages and photos to verify
there are “no red flags that need to be addressed.”

“Any device connected to the Internet has the potential to be used by these predators to engage in
conversations with your child,” he warned. “Smartphones, gaming consoles, computers, tablets,
etc. all provide an avenue for these predators to engage with children.”

Parents are also encouraged to have conversations with their children about the dangers of online
predators and to maintain an open line of communication with their children.

“The best tactic is to routinely discuss online safety with your child,” said LaBarge. “More and
more children are starting to have cellular telephones and access to Internet connected devices at
very young ages. It is very important to discuss and reinforce safety. Parents should start talking
about safety in general as early as possible.”

The MCU recommends parents lay out “ground rules and boundaries” prior to children gaining
access to electronic devices connected to the Internet.

“Never let your child have free rein on any electronic device,” said LaBarge. “It is important to
discuss safety and boundaries before giving access and lay out the consequences for not adhering
to them.”

Many cybercriminals use the anonymity offered by the Internet to prey on vulnerable children
and teenagers. This allows the criminal to mask their real identities and leverage the curiosity of
children when seeking victims. Cyber predators and criminals continue to use a variety of tactics
and platforms to prey on unsuspecting children.

Understand the Risks:

Inappropriate Content
Children may encounter inappropriate content online that encourages unlawful or dangerous
behavior. Inappropriate content can also leave children confused and unable to process what they
have seen. Inappropriate content is different for every age and maturity level, but may include
websites, posts, or pictures containing pornography, excessive violence, or hate speech. Many
platforms provide a minimum age of use that can be used as a guideline to protect children from
inappropriate content for their age.

Online Privacy
Online privacy protects children’s online information such as name, address, passwords, phone
numbers, and other personal information or PII. Personal information should not be shared
online. Cybercriminals use the Internet to collect information and may target children as children
may willingly post or provide personal information. Cybercriminals use children’s personal
information to commit identity fraud and open credit cards, auto loans, utility services, or other
accounts. Geographic locations and street address information should also be protected online as
it can lead to criminals targeting your residence or unwanted contact from strangers. Geolocation
tags on social media posts or photos give the exact location making it easier for criminals to
locate the individual or residence.

Cyber Predators
Cyber predators are individuals who use the Internet to connect with minors in order to take
advantage of them sexually, emotionally, psychologically, or financially. Cyber predators
manipulate children by developing trust and a friendship. Teens are more at risk to cyber
predators than younger children as they may willingly talk to a predator online even though they
know it is dangerous. Some teens turn to online dating or social groups, which can also make
them more inclined to meet up with a predator in person.

Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying refers to harassment through the use of digital devices. Cyberbullying can cause
emotional or physical distress in children. Cyberbullying can be done by spreading lies, posting
embarrassing photos, and sending hurtful messages or threats. Cyberbullying most often occurs
through social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms, and cellphones. Preteens and
teens are more likely to become victims of cyberbullying than younger children. Cyberbullying
can cause depression, decreased self-worth, hopelessness, and loneliness. Preteen and teen
victims of cyberbullying are at higher risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviors.

Online Scams
A variety of scams are carried out online. The most common online scam targeting children are
free game advertisements and prize entries that ask for money or personal information. Other
online scams targeting children include ads and auctions that offer items at cheap prices, but the
items never arrive after sending a payment.

Phishing
Phishing is the use of emails or ads to trick children into clicking malicious links or attachments.
Phishing emails and ads are often used to steal personal information by asking for verification of
address or other personal information from seemingly reputable sites.

Accidental Malware Downloads
Malware refers to malicious software that disrupts, damages, or gains unauthorized access to a
system. Malware can infect computers or other devices and is most often used to steal private
information. Malware can also be used to steal credentials or give a cybercriminal access to the
device. Kids are more likely to accidentally initiate malware when downloading games or other
applications.

Children May Encounter Solicitations Through:
• Social media
• Email
• Texting
• Built-in chats on computer or video games
• Online forums, chat rooms, or message boards
• Software downloads
• Ads
Protect Your Children Online
Parental involvement is critical to help children use the internet safely.
• Talk to your children about their online activities.
• Get familiar with the technology platforms your child likes to use.
• Keep consoles and other devices in an easy to supervise location and be aware of other
places where your child may be accessing the Internet.
• Ensure children are using privacy controls when setting up accounts.
• Encourage your children to choose appropriate screen names.
• Set rules about what your children can share online.
• Talk to your children about giving out information online and to never give out personal
information including passwords, home address, location, phone number, or email
address.
• Teach children to ignore messages from strangers and to ask them who they are in
contact with online.
• Teach children to never meet in person with someone they met online.
• Install antivirus on computers and mobile devices.
• Keep all software up to date.
• Ensure games and other applications are downloaded from official vendor application
stores.
• Consider downloading parental control applications to block inappropriate content,
monitor social networks, and monitor calls.

Signs Your Child May Be at Risk Online:
• Spending more time online, especially at night.
• Turning the computer monitor off quickly or changing the screen when you come into the
room.
• Becoming overly upset when they are is not allowed on their devices.
• Receiving calls or text from callers you do not recognize.
• Taking extra steps to conceal what they are doing online.
• Receiving mail, gifts, or packages from people you do not know.

If you suspect your child has been victimized, contact your local law enforcement agency, the
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or the
Federal Trade Commission.