With school going virtual, children are spending more time online, and predators are trying harder than ever to make contact with them.
In the first nine months of this year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) recorded 30,236 reports of online enticement of children, compared to 15,220 reports over the same period in 2019.
Locally, numbers are almost as bad.
In all of 2019, the Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit received 3,248 cyber tips of potential child sexual exploitation. But this year, by Dec. 7, they had already logged over 5,400 tips.
The largest number of cases was in Prince George’s County, where they received 1,036 cyber tips, compared to 525 for the same period in 2019.
The largest increase in the number of tips was Howard County, which had 727 this year, compared to only 196 last year. Montgomery County had 862 tips called in this year, compared to 408 last year. Anne Arundel County had 344 tips this year, up from 264 during the same period in 2019. Baltimore City had 712 cyber tips this year, up from 480 last year, and Baltimore County had 668 tips, almost double the 360 over the same period last year.
The tips include concerns of potential online exploitation and enticement. Online enticement is when a predator communicates online with a person they believe to be a child, with the intent of committing a sexual abduction or offense. Other tips relate to children being convinced to take sexually explicit images or meet in person with someone for a sexual reason.
Police said these offenses are happening in multiple online locations, ranging from social media to chat and voice communication functions in video games.
Maryland State Police Cyber Crimes Unit offered the following advice for parents concerned about protecting their children:
- Continuously monitor all of your child’s online activity
- Be aware of who your children are communicating with online
- Talk with your children about online content
- Remind children to avoid communication with strangers
- Maintain control of apps downloaded on your child’s device
- Be aware of what children see and hear and who they meet
- Know what information your child is sharing
If you think your child may have been the victim of an attempt at online exploitation, you can file a complaint with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at www.missingkids.com or 1-800-THE-LOST.
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