Increase Your Awareness

The anonymity of the Internet means that intimacy can develop quickly online. Predators take advantage of this effect to build online relationships with inexperienced young people.

Online predators have been known to initiate contact with the kids they target through chat rooms, instant messaging, email, discussion boards, social networks, blogs and online games. Increasing your awareness of how predators operate can help you identify signs of predatory activity and take steps to protect your family.

How Do Predators Operate?
Online predators typically seek out emotionally vulnerable targets and attempt to earn their trust in order to bring about an in-person meeting. Young adolescents are typically the most at-risk age group. Targets tend to be:

  • Moving away from parental control and looking to establish relationships outside the family. They may be actively seeking attention or affection due to feelings of loneliness or isolation. Under the guise of anonymity online, they are more likely to take risks without fully understanding the possible implications.
  • Exploring their sexuality or confused about sexual identity.
  • Rebellious, curious and/or attracted to subcultures apart from their parents' world or subculture.
  • Easily tricked by adults. While most kids know that predators exist and are dangerous, many are slow to identify predatory activities or tactics.
  • Novice through advanced Internet users. Parents often assume that a technologically savvy child is immune to targeting. Predators may use a child's experience level — whether low or high — as an opportunity to form an online bond.

Recognizing the Signs
While some predators work quickly — engaging in sexually explicit conversations immediately — many devote considerable time, money and energy to gradually winning over targets. The following is a brief look at some predatory tactics and warning signs that your child may be the target of predatory activity.

Predator Tactic

Family Warning Signs

Offers attention, affection and maximum availability to create an online relationship.

  • Your child forms new or especially intense online relationships.
  • A spike in time spent online, especially in chat rooms.
  • Unusual secrecy about Internet use and an insistence on closed-door sessions.

Seeks to drive a wedge between target and family by exaggerating problems at home under the guise of being supportive.

  • Your child is withdrawn, depressed or uncharacteristically combative.

Introduces sexual conversations or content to lower target’s inhibitions or convince them that adult-teen relationships are normal and acceptable.

  • Pornography found on your home computer or "hidden" on disks or other removable media.
  • Inappropriate content on instant messenger or chat logs.

Provides additional means of electronic communication outside of original Internet contact.

  • Unusual or unknown email accounts or logins on your home computer.
  • Login access to new or unknown sites.

Initiates phone contact to engage in phone sex or as a prelude to in-person meetings. May trick target into revealing their phone number by providing a 1-800 number for the target to call.

  • Phone calls from people unknown to your family or phone calls made to unknown, long-distance or 1-800 numbers.

Sends letters or gifts by mail to further cement the relationship, prove affection or enable in-person meetings.

  • Packages from unknown senders, suspicious photographs or suspicious gifts such as high-priced items or plane tickets.

Achieves offline meeting with target.

  • Your child has unexplained absences from home.
  • Your child is anxious, withdrawn or depressed.

If You Believe Your Child is Being Targeted

If you identify any warning signs of predatory activity, talk to your child. If your child receives sexually explicit photos from an online correspondent, or if she or he is solicited sexually in email, instant messaging or some other manner online or offline, contact your local police. Save any records of the activity — including email addresses, web site addresses, chat logs and mail — to share with the police.

Bottom Line

If your kids come into contact with an online predator, don't blame them. The offender bears full responsibility. Seek immediate help and take decisive action to stop your child from any further contact with that person.