CINCINNATI – Kenneth L. Parker, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, announced today that his office and law enforcement agencies are seeing an increase in cases involving impostors posing as others, especially as children or teens on social media and online gaming platforms, persuading victims to provide sexual or intimate personal information, and using that information to threaten or intimidate their victims.
Parker urged parents and caregivers to take steps to help young people identify the impostors and avoid becoming victims.
“Social media has opened up a whole new realm of child exploitation opportunities,” Parker said. “An online predator can easily amass victims across the United States by pretending to be someone they aren’t. Offenders will tell fictitious stories and create personas to manipulate and coerce victims.”
Parker offered the following guidance to parents and child caregivers:
- Know what devices your child is using and their passcodes to access the devices;
- Become familiar with the online games and the social media your child uses, and the privacy settings in the games and apps;
- Set limits on the time your child spends online;
- Talk with your child about the dangers of sharing personal information or images online and how those images can damage their mental health and reputation; and
- Watch for sudden changes in a child’s behavior such as isolation, missing school, losing interest in friends, becoming obsessive about their phone, and being angry or upset after they’ve been online.
Parker also emphasized that parents need to maintain open lines of communication with their children letting their child know that the parent will be monitoring the child’s online activity to protect their child. “Assure your child that they can come to you and talk judgment-free about their online activity, who they’ve met, and what they discuss,” Parker said.
Parker cited recent cases of a 28-year-old high school coach accused of impersonating a 15-year-old girl and persuading his victims to send sexually explicit photos which he distributed over the internet, and a convicted sexual offender who allegedly worked with his girlfriend claiming that the only way he could get life-saving surgery for his mother was to sell sexually explicit images and videos of minor victims. Defendants in all criminal cases should be presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
Parker said these two cases, like many child exploitation cases, started with caregivers or other adults notifying local law enforcement of their concerns. He urges any parents who suspect their children could be victims of online exploitation to contact their local law enforcement agency. Many local agencies participate in Internet Crimes Against Children task forces that unite federal, state, and local law enforcement resources to investigate and prosecute cases of child exploitation.
To report online child sexual exploitation, use the electronic Cyber Tip Line or call 1-800-843-5678. The Cyber Tip Line is operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in partnership with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
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