Federal investigators want parents to ask themselves an important question, do you know what your kids are up to online right now? News 5 takes a deep dive into the terrifying world of online predators and the trouble that could be waiting if our families aren't careful.
Online gaming, social media, and online dating, these are all mainstream online platforms, but federal investigators say they're also providing cover for online predators targeting our kids.
One of the online schemes being carried out by online predators that's concerning FBI agents the most is called sextortion. The predator convinces the child to send them an explicit image of themselves and then uses that image as blackmail to get the victim to continue to produce more inappropriate photos and videos.
"Individuals who are conducting this kind of activity have multiple online profiles. They can pretend to be a 16-year-old boy or girl, they can pretend to be anyone, especially in the online gaming environments where they're offering cheat codes, they're offering access to coupons or to get further advanced in a game," said FBI Special Agent Herrick "So it's really important to have your guard up to know that if someone was contacting you saying that there's something, there's a good chance they might not be."
The FBI has been tracking statistics about online predators and targets of their actions. Federal investigators believe there are more than 500,000 online predators active each day and they all have multiple online profiles. More than 50% of victims are ages 12 to 15 and 89% of victims are contacted by online predators through chat rooms and instant messaging.
At 14 years old, Evan McDaniel was doing well in school and his parents saw no signs of any trouble until it was too late.
At the start of 2021, Evan visited a website where he made contact with who he thought was a teenage girl, but turned out to be a criminal enterprise that the investigators later determined to be based in the Philippines.
Whoever was on the other end of the line with Evan appears to have recorded a compromising video of him. They threatened to expose Evan if he didn't pay and when he didn't pay and stopped responding, they sent a screen grab to his sister and cousin and moved the conversation to Instagram.
The pressure got so great that Evan took his own life.
"The force behind the threats kept escalating," said Evan's father David McDaniel.
"We never told him, if you do mess up and something happens come to us," said Evan's mother Jennifer McDaniel.
In addition to warning them about these online dangers, remind your kids there is no problem too big that you can't work it out together.
Ashley Reynolds was also targeted by the sextortion scheme when she was 14, but says talking to her parents saved her.
"Just knowing that someone else knows, that someone else is aware, that I am not the only one who knows what I have been doing. It is just bricks off of your back," said Reynolds.
Advice from FBI agents on preparing your family for online threats:
- Learn about websites software, games, and apps your child uses.
- Talk about what is appropriate to say or share online.
- Stress that images and comments never truly disappear online.
- Utilize privacy settings
- Remind them they can report any suspicious activity to 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324).
To help protect your family and to guide you in these serious conversations about online dangers...
Here are some additional resources: