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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 7, 2020

South Florida U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, and HSI Offer Tips On Protecting Children From On-Line Predators During Covid-19 Pandemic

Miami, Fl. – Top federal law enforcement officials in South Florida urge parents to stay alert to the increased danger their children face from on-line predators during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A parent is a child’s best defense against on-line sex predators,” said Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Now that our children are home and spending more time on the internet due to the health crisis, I encourage parents to engage in open and frank discussions with their children on who, and what, to avoid on-line.” 

“With children spending more time on the internet, it is especially important that they do so safely,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami.  “Criminals and predators will try to develop a relationship with a young online victim, then arrange a meet to abuse the child or coerce a child into producing sexually explicit images through manipulations, gifts or threats, a crime called sextortion.  Parents and guardians should set guidelines and monitor their children’s internet use and, of course, immediately report any inappropriate contact between an adult and your child to law enforcement.”

“Thousands of children right in South Florida are experiencing greater internet usage, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted traditional classroom settings to virtual instruction.  Increased presence online means children are at an even greater risk of encountering cyber predators who know how to exploit their vulnerabilities,” said Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HIS), Miami. “With families staying home, many children will spend even more time using social media, gaming platforms and other online applications than usual. Now is as good a time as any to ensure kids and parents are practicing online safety and know how to identify potential threats.”

To help parents navigate the increased threat during the pandemic that is keeping children indoors and on-line, U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan, FBI Special Agent in Charge Piro, and HSI Special Agent in Charge Salisbury recommend that parents do the following:  

  • Tell your children to avoid communicating with strangers online.
  • Monitor your children’s chats, messages, and communications with people, particularly through gaming systems.
  • Explain to your children that sometimes predators will offer them gifts in exchange for their taking and sending sexually explicit images or videos. Sometimes, the predators will make threats. Parents should explain to their children that these are strategies abusers use to get what they want, and if this happens, to not feel guilty and immediately tell a parent or other adult.
  • To the extent possible, educate yourself about the internet tools your children use.  For example, set up your child’s specific profile on phones, iPads, and computer devices to limit the websites and content your child can access, and have a weekly “usage” sheet sent to you for that profile.  Make sure your children use privacy settings to restrict access to their online profiles.
  • Check your children’s social media and gaming profiles and posts. Talk to your children about what is appropriate to say or share.
  • Explain to your children that once images or comments post online, people can share them. Explain that everyone in the world can see what they publicly post on the internet and they can never completely erase posted images and comments.
  • Encourage children to choose appropriate screen names and create strong passwords.  Parents should be aware of all passwords and discourage children from keeping their passwords a secret.
  • Make it a rule with your children that they cannot arrange to meet up with someone they have met online without your knowledge and supervision. 
     

Child Exploitation is a serious federal crime, carrying severe federal penalties. If you suspect or become aware of possible sexual exploitation of a child, please contact law enforcement. To alert the South Florida FBI office, call 754-703-2000. To alert the South Florida HSI office, call 866-347-2423. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) also accepts complaints of child sexual exploitation at 1-800-843-5678.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, and HSI have prosecuted many child exploitation cases in the Southern District of Florida. In December 2019, for example, a defendant received a 50-year prison sentence after a jury found him guilty of orchestrating a sextortion ring targeting children. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI led the prosecution. For more information on this case, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/pr/man-convicted-trial-miami-orchestrating-snapchat-sextortion-ring-targeted-children.

In February of this year, a defendant received a 20-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to coercing a 15-year-old girl into taking sexually explicit photographs and videos of herself and sending them to his cellular telephone.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office and HSI led this prosecution.  For more information on this case, visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/pr/loxahatchee-man-sentenced-20-years-federal-prison-production-child-pornography-and.

Topic(s): 
Coronavirus
Updated May 7, 2020