(KVOA) – On Thursday, the FBI issued a warning about the potential for child abductors to use social media or social networks to lure underage victims instead of in-person interaction.
The FBI said due to COVID-19 related school closures, minors likely will be at greater risk for encountering offenders online as they seek to occupy their free time with increased social media use.
The FBI said that while criminals exploit social media and social networks to commit crimes involving child sexual abuse material, sex trafficking of a minor, and child sex tourism, the use of these platforms to facilitate child abductions is lesser-known.
FBI investigations indicated child abductors can use social media, social networks and dating applications to identify, initiate contact and gain access to children prior to their abduction.
“Potential child abductors use these tools as lower-risk methods of gaining access to and luring child victims, compared to other methods such as an in-person ruse,” the FBI said in a news release. “In some cases, child victims are groomed online, enticing the victim to meet with an abductor in person, which can then lead to them being taken against their will.”
According to the FBI, due to the availability of the Internet to all age groups, potential abductors can mislead children by pretending to be someone in their age group and creating a relationship of false trust. While the stated minimum age for most social media and social networking websites and applications is 13, the FBI said younger children can and often do, find alternate ways to gain access.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, children had access to playgrounds, bus stops, malls, and public spaces more frequently. And while the risk of abduction existed, a criminal abducting a minor in person in a public place was at greater risk of exposure due to potential witnesses. The risk of immediate detection is much lower online. Although the number of abductions in which offenders used social media and social networks as the initial contact accounts for a small percentage of FBI child abduction investigations, as children spend more time on a computer or mobile devices with access to social media or networks, the FBI expects the percentage of offenders using social media or networks as the initial contact method to increase. Open-source research indicates 22 percent of teenagers log on to their preferred social media website more than 10 times per day and 50 percent of children log on more than once a day. Due to their limited capacity for self-regulation and their heightened susceptibility to peer pressure, children are at greater risk of falling prey to potential child abductors as they navigate social media,” the FBI said in a news release.
With current restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in many areas of the United States are likely to remain closed. The FBI said this has resulted in children being left at home and potentially unsupervised due to reduced daycare options and parents having to return to work. As a result, they are likely to spend more time on the Internet, further increasing their vulnerability.
If you believe you are or someone you know is the target or victim of child abduction:
- Contact your local law enforcement agency or your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices
- File a complaint online with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov
- Report child abductions and/or attempted child abductions to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)
- Victims are encouraged to keep all original documentation, emails, text messages, and logs of communication with the subject. Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it; and
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