BISMARCK, ND (KFYR) – As the Internet continues to be a big part of life for many Americans, online crimes against children have skyrocketed. Agents in the North Dakota Task Force often see criminals luring children into meetings, tricking them into information, or trading explicit and violent images and videos of children. So how widespread is the problem, and what are agents doing to track down predators?
While predators roam behind the screen, they often try to contact unsuspecting and trusting children. Many parents are cautious.
“The biggest fear I have now is that she’s going to give information. And someone who’s male and not female is going to come and tell her he’s her age,” said Tricia Brown, Bismarck’s parent.
As children now grow up using the Internet, they also learn a lesson in staying safe.
“My mom has talked to me about it before. They can take advantage of you and stuff like that. I’m kind of scared of people on (the internet) asking me questions about how old I am, where I live, stuff like that, ” said Karisma in the fourth grade.
Parents are not the only ones who protect children. Others are also hard at work chasing shadows.
As predators lurk in the darkest corners of the internet, government Task Force agents work to bring the abuse to light.
Every day, BCI agents get CyberTips from ISPs.
“This is from Google as a service provider. Again, child exploitation material,” said Steven Harstad, chief agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, as he pointed to a tip displayed on his computer screen.
Tips have increased more than 500% in the past six years.
“As time goes on, younger and younger kids are getting devices and they’re getting access to the Internet. So I think that increases the number of possible targets. I also think people are doing a better job of reporting it. The service providers are doing a better job reporting it,” Chief Agent Harstad said.
Chief Agent Harstad tells your news leader that the Task Force is having “good success” tracking down these criminals in North Dakota. Every 1,000 tips, some of which are multiple tips to the same person, result in about 200 arrests for people trying to meet with or deceive children or obtain and trade explicit and offensive material from children.
The stakes are high, but agents say the work is meaningful.
“You get to the end of the case and you’ve really saved a child,” Chief Agent Harstad said.
He says that while there are real dangers with serious consequences, the Internet can still be a useful tool and source of entertainment. He says education and open communication are key to keeping your kids safe.
Your news leader will give you more information about what happens after a criminal is caught and how educators help children stay safe in parts 2 and 3 of this multi-part “Virtual Vigilance” series.
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