Privacy Tip #255 – Federal Agencies Warn of Online Predators’ Access to Children During Pandemic

Late last week, October 9, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York issued a warning to the public entitled “Internet Predators: Warnings & Prevention for Families During the Pandemic and Beyond”  which is a must read for parents, teachers, families, and frankly, everyone.

Warning: it is a scary read in which the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, United States Marshals Service and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) “warn the public of increased risks to children and teens from online sexual predators. In an era where children are spending more time on the Internet, it is essential that parents, guardians, educators and trusted adults know the risks and how to prevent exploitation.”

 The warning outlines how, during the pandemic, children are online more than ever before. They are downloading and using apps that parents are unable to monitor, and exploiters know how to use social media and online platforms to target children and teens. 

The warning states “[W]e must all educate ourselves and talk to our children about the risks inherent in the open access the Internet provides. Talk to your kids about what sites they are visiting, what apps they use, whom they are texting and messaging, what kinds of pictures they take of themselves, and what kinds of pictures other people send to them. Encourage them to share with you anything makes them uncomfortable, whether an image, a message, or a solicitation.”

 It also provides a list of resources for consideration:

  • NetSmartz has a number of websites with tool kits, games, videos for all ages, PowerPoints for educators, tip sheets and more. Go to NetSmartz.org
  • Homeland Security Investigations and NCMEC just launched their SafetyPledge campaign, encouraging parents to pledge to talk with their children about this threat. Their website includes a tool kit packed with information. Go to SafetyPledge.org
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website, entitled Safe Online Surfing, has resources categorized from 3rd grade through 8th grade, for teachers and students. Go to SOS.FBI.gov

The alert reminds all of us to educate children and each other about the risks to children and teens when they are online. October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and this is a good reminder to revisit conversations about online activity with the children and teens in our lives.