The Federal Bureau of Investigation [FBI] recently launched a campaign to warn parents about children’s online interactions when using online gaming platforms. With an estimated half of children in the United States using a gaming platform, they can be a source of victims for sexual predators.
New York FBI Intelligence Analyst Chris Travis noticed a trend of similarities where sexual predators were using popular online gaming platforms to victimize children. He began working with Special Agent Pao Fisher to analyze recently opened cases involving sexual predators.
Travis found several subject began grooming children on online gaming sites through chats or voice communications. Many then talked children into switching over to other social media platforms, which enabled greater access to information about their potential victims.
Fisher interviewed multiple suspects who detailed the process. “They explained to me how they start up conversations and get to know the victims, usually by posing as a child of similar age.”
Fisher explains how predators often moved their process forward quickly.
“After a shockingly short period of time, they enticed their victims to take the chat to one of the popular social media apps. Most of the popular gaming sites don’t allow for the exchange of photos or videos. Once on the social media app, the suspect would pressure the child to send photos, getting more aggressive and demanding more compromising images. Ultimately, this led to the predator threatening to expose the victim’s photos to their parents or posting them online.”
As a result of Travis’ work, FBI New York launched the It’s Not a Game campaign on June 29. The campaign includes public service announcements and panel discussions.
Supervisory Special Agent Seamus Clarke, who leads the FBI/NYPD Joint New York Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking Task Force explained ways parents can take more control over what their children can access, and who has access to them.
“Practically all recent cell phones and tablets have built-in features that allow parents and guardians to have varying degrees of control over how the device is used or isn’t used by their child,” Clarke said. “Exact settings differ depending on the manufacturer, but there are generally common features devices share parents should know about. I highly suggest parents take the time to get familiar with their child’s device and ensure it is properly set up.”
FBI New York Office, Assistant Director-in-Charge Bill Sweeney said the FBI’s message is not to keep children off online games. “As much as we want to shield our children from every evil in the world, that’s not a practical way to live,” he said. “Children are going to play these online games, and that’s okay. But we can set parameters, we can learn the security settings on our devices, and we can talk with our children, or find someone for them to talk to.”
See the public service announcements from the FBI's It's Not a Game Campaign below.