Trinity Mount Ministries

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Montgomery County Police, experts report increase in internet crimes against children

 Randi Bass

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — Experts and local police departments say criminals looking to exploit children are taking advantage of your kids spending more time on their laptops and cell phones during the pandemic.

“Parents are the ones who are really in the dark about these apps and how these kids can communicate with adults,” said Lt. Gerald McFarland of the Montgomery County Police Department’s Special Victims Investigations Division.

He says SVID is cracking down on cybercriminals, as the department has noticed an increase in the victimization of kids online since the onset of COVID-19.

“Children are sharing images or videos of themselves and they think they can trust the person they’re sending it to. [Child exploiters] can use those pictures to try and get more pictures, try and extort money from them, or worst case, try to meet with them in person,” said Lt. McFarland.

Callahan Walsh is a child advocate with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He works closely with his father, John Walsh, NCMEC’s founder. He explains how COVID-19 has changed the M.O. of some tech-savvy traffickers.

“With these child sex traffickers, their buyers were more reluctant to meet in person because of the lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions. Sex traffickers were then selling images and videos of their victims online, like on a subscription basis,” said Callahan Walsh.

These traffickers aren’t keeping these methods to themselves either. NCMEC says traffickers are passing along tips to other potential predators.

“We saw chatter on the dark web from child exploiters sharing best practices and tips on how to groom children, how to lure children, how to exploit children on different platforms,” said Walsh.

NCMEC preaches prevention as a key step in stopping online sex crimes. Walsh says there’s plenty of red flags you can be on the lookout for.

“If your child is very guarded about their online behavior, won’t talk to you about what they’re doing or who they’re talking to online, or they’re talking to people they don’t know in real life,” said Walsh.

It’s a reality no parent wants to face, but Walsh says it’s critically important to have honest conversations about online safety with your kids.

“You need to have those conversations early, often and ongoing. The same conversation with your youngest child about online safety is vastly different than the one you’re having with your oldest child about safety,” said Walsh.

MCPD SVID and NCMEC encourage you to report suspicious online activity to your local police department and submit a detailed tip to NCMEC’s CyberTipline.

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