Technology can be a positive, fun part of life. Many people, especially young adults, enjoy spending a lot of time online. Unfortunately, the digital world can have just as many dangers as the “real” world. Online predators are one of the greatest threats to your personal safety on the internet. An online predator is an adult who seeks to exploit youths for sexual or other harmful purposes. If you or someone you know is a teen who regularly uses the internet, take steps to stay safe. It is vital that you learn the warning signs of predators and know what steps to take if you encounter them. If you learn the signs and use your common sense, you can continue to stay safe online.
Learn common traits of predators. Many online predators are looking to sexually exploit children or teens. They may be pedophiles or child molesters. There are many characteristics that are typical of predators.
- Generally, pedophiles are outgoing and engaging. If you meet someone online who seems overly friendly, be cautious.
- Child molesters actively target their prey. They might use the Internet to seek out a child they know from the neighborhood, work, or school.
- Be aware that online predators can be complete strangers or someone you actually know.
Understand grooming. “Grooming” is the process that the predator uses to gain a child’s trust. Grooming can happen over a relatively short period of time, such as one conversation. It can also occur over a longer stretch, like a couple of weeks or even months.
- A predator is typically an adult. During the initial interactions, they might lie about their age in order to gain trust.
- During the grooming process, the predator will try to establish a connection with the young person. For example, they might try to figure out which activities their prey enjoys and talk about them.
- If a predator learns that you play soccer, for instance, they might say, “Where do you play? I play every weekend. Which team are you on?” They will agree with you, but may not know the details of the topic, so ask them about details of what they claim is true.
Be wary of requests to meet. When you are unsure who you are dealing with online, there are several specific things to look out for. Being aware of warning signs can help keep you and your family safe. After the initial grooming period, many online predators will ask for an in person meeting. This is a red flag.
- If someone says, “I really need to meet you in person”, be aware that could be a sign of a predator.
- Be especially cautious if there are repeated requests. If someone tries to insist on meeting you, you need to question their motives.
- Try saying, “I enjoy chatting online about school, but it’s making me uncomfortable that you are pressuring me to meet. Would you mind cooling it?”
Watch out for flattery. Online predators often try to emotionally manipulate their prey. They may offer compliments as a way to gain favor. Be wary of effusive flattery.
- If you have pictures of yourself online, a predator might comment on your appearance. Make sure that only friends you know and trust can view your photos.
- Consider it a warning sign if someone says something like, “You’re so pretty. I can get you a modeling contract.”
Identify suspicious behavior. Any statement that can be perceived as a threat is another warning sign. An online predator might try to scare a person into doing what they want. If someone threatens you, exit the site or chat room immediately.
- A threat could be something like, “Don’t tell your parents you’ve been talking to me. I’ll find out.”
- A predator could also threaten you by saying, “If you don’t meet me, I’ll tell your friends your secrets.”
- A request for personal information is also suspicious. Do not give out your phone number or address.
Look for changes in your child’s behavior. Maybe you are concerned that your child is being targeted by an online predator. There are several warning signs you can look for. Think about whether your child:
- Is secretive about online activities
- Seems obsessed with being online
- Tries to hide the screen from view when an adult enters the room
- Receives calls or texts from someone you don’t know
- Downloads pornography
Contact the CyberTipline. This resource is mandated by Congress. You can contact the tipline 24/7 to report suspected incidents of abuse. You can report inappropriate sexual advances and any distribution of unsolicited sexual material.
- Go to the website at www.cybertipline.com
- You can also call 1-800-843-5678