In 2015, New Jersey law enforcement officers arrested 143 cyber predators. This year, the figure is expected to rise to over 360.
New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal said action is being taken to crack down on individuals who stalk young children and teens online, but with criminals eschewing traditional chat rooms in favor of more elusive communication methods, catching predators was no easy task.
“They’re using the chat features on games like Fortnite, they’re using the chat features on other social media apps, they’re using Tik Tok, they’re using a whole host of different tools to target young people,” said Grewal.
The attorney general said that a cyber predator will use the anonymity granted by the internet to impersonate a young person when online. By presenting themselves in this way, they are able to win the trust of unsuspecting youngsters.
Grewal said: “When young people have social media accounts, those are being targeted as well by people who are either pretending to be a kid, pretending to be somebody they’re not. There’s just so many more areas and avenues for these cyber-predators to attack young people.”
While law enforcement invests significant resources into fighting this particular type of crime, Grewal said parents must also do their part to help protect children and young people from cyber predators.
Using technology to track down the perpetrators is “resource intensive, it takes a long time, and we can’t do it alone,” said Grewal, “So we do our part on the enforcement side, but the message that we want out there is that parents need to do their part as well.”
Grewal urged parents to make sure that they know what apps their children are using on their smart phones and IoT devices and to disable chat features where necessary.
He also emphasized the importance of telling children about the very real dangers of communicating with strangers online. Besides being groomed by sexual predators, children who share personal information online are at risk of having their identities stolen.