CLEVELAND — As schools move to online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic, the FBI warns there is an increased threat to children. The agency says sexual predators are targeting children and trying to exploit kids online.
"It is a ripe environment for predators right now," said FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson. "Kids are online even more than they were before. Even during school hours, they are online, and we're concerned predators are going to take advantage of this."
That's why the FBI put out an alert to parents, teachers and caregivers: Predators are posing as children or young teenagers and visiting apps, online games and social media sites popular with kids.
"Predators study that, they know where to go and how to talk to kids," Anderson said.
The predators persuade kids to send nude photos or meet in person for sex.
"We do have agents and task force members who get online and pose as a 13- or 14-year-old girl, or whatever persona they come up with," she said.
Bryan Allen, a detective with the Canton Police Department in Ohio, is one of the officers fighting crimes against children online.
Allen is a member of the FBI Canton Resident Agency's Child Exploitation Task Force. He targets predators who target children.
Behind the computer screen, Allen is a 14-year-old, and predators quickly respond.
"I probably started this chat at 9:00. It's 10:40, and he wants to come down from Cleveland to meet and have sex with a 14-year-old," Allen said.
In February, Allen was part of Operation Unsportsmanlike Conduct. That operation netted 14 suspected child predators over Super Bowl weekend — men who believed they were communicating online with young teen boys and girls.
Every day, authorities say predators are talking to children online. Allen has some advice for parents: "Look at your child's phone," and talk to your children.
"They need to know there are dangers on the computer. When you open it up, you open the whole world," Anderson said.
This story was originally published by Tracy Carloss on WEWS in Cleveland.