FBI: Predators targeting local kids through online gaming

Action News Jax Investigates: Predators using video games

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax Investigates predators targeting your children through video games.

It's happens more than you know.

In an Action News Jax exclusive, reporter Letisha Bereola sat down with an FBI Special Agent who exposed how predators use video games and fake friendships to target kids.

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Technology is evolving fast and it's giving predators unprecedented access to our kids through video games.

“This is nothing like the generation I grew up in,” said local mother Jessica Otwell.

Otwell is right. FBI Special Agent Keith Joyce says predators use multiplayer games like Fortnite to find their prey.

“The new playground of today is online gaming,” said Joyce.

Here’s how it works: A child accepts an invite to play from a stranger. Conversations start light and then a predator will make their move by asking for explicit photos.

“They’ll attempt to get the victim to send one image. Once that image that compromising is sent all bets are off,” said Joyce.

Joyce says a lot of child pornography distributed online comes from situations exactly like this.

Sextortion; it’s a trap Otwell wants to keep her 15-year-old away from.

“There are parents out here that honestly don’t know,” said Otwell.

Her daughter recently ended a friendship with a classmate who she says she got too close to a stranger through a video game.

“They take online fantasy and turn it into real life without grasping who is actually on the other side of the microphone,” said Jennifer Otwell.

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Once predators gain a foothold, Joyce says communication often moves to social media. And the threats get more intense.
 
"They will call over Facebook messenger and leave voicemails there talking about how if the victim doesn't send more images within 10 minutes then they're going to post it all over their Facebook page, they are going to send to all their friends and family," said Joyce.

Parents may never hear about it.

Shame can silence even the most well-adjusted, happy child.

"They will go through years and years of hell just to not shame their parents or not get in trouble," said Joyce. 
 
Here are tips on how to better protect your kids from online predators:

  • Teach your kids if a conversation during a video game veers off topic, even if it seems innocent, like "what state do you live in?" tell them to grab an adult right away.
  • Show them how to block people online.
  • FBI Special Agent Keith Joyce says parents have to understand this is happening in our area and to make sure kids know they can come to you about strange encounters online.

More resources from the FBI: