Maryland State Police warn parents about online predators sexually extorting minors on social media platforms.
Authorities say they’ve received multiple reports of minors being contacted by strangers through messaging services such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
“Investigators believe online predators may often give the impression they are romantically interested in the minor being targeted, to gain their trust. As the chats progress, the suspect user will request sexually illicit photographs of the minor, and might even send photographs back to the minor in return,” according to police.
If a minor sends a sexually illicit photograph, the online predator proceeds to extort the victim. These suspects usually ask for money in the form of a gift card and prepaid credit card numbers.
“The suspect accounts advise that if money is not sent, the illicit photographs of the minor will be sent to family, friends, and posted online accompanied by distasteful comments about the minor,” police said.
Investigators found that in many instances the suspect accounts originate from foreign countries which “significantly limits” the ability to formally identify a suspect.
Police urge parents and guardians to educate their children on the following points:
- When contacted by an account you do not know, it is very possible the account does not belong to who they say they are;
- Although an account might seem harmless at first, the nature of a chat can quickly become threatening and intimidating;
- DO NOT click on unknown links / URLs sent by unknown accounts;
- DO NOT take illicit photographs of yourself;
- DO NOT send illicit photographs of yourself online;
- If you are contacted by an unknown account, it is best to ignore the message, report the account to the social media platform, and block the account from being able to view your profile.
Authorities also encourage parents to monitor their children’s online activity and implement the following safety tips:
- Place computers in a common area of the house and not bedrooms
- Educate yourself about digital devices and the Internet
- Make reasonable rules and set screen time limits
- Reinforce the guiding rule “Don’t talk to strangers”
- Put accounts in your name and know your child’s passwords
- Don’t let your children give out personal information online
- Be aware of other digital devices your child may be using
- Review the use histories or logs of your digital devices to see where your children have been online
Complaints involving child exploitation can be filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com or by calling 1-800-THE-LOST.