United States Attorney’s Office, FBI Warn Residents of Online Dangers
ROANOKE, Va. – As the world continues to operate in a more virtual environment due to COVID-19 restrictions, Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar and Christopher R. Derrickson, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division are reminding people to continue to be vigilant when it comes to keeping your family safe online.
“The worldwide pandemic caused by COVID-19 has changed the way we interact with our community. Many of our school, work, and social events are now conducted online, making the need to be aware of the threats posed even greater,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar said today. “Parents need to be aware of who their children are communicating with, what apps they are using, and whether the games they are playing have a messaging or chat function. Predators can use all of these mechanisms to infiltrate our lives. The United States Attorney's Office and our partners at the FBI are doing our part to keep you safe but we want parents, grandparents, and others to have as much information as possible to stay vigilant and protect their families as well.”
FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Derrickson urges parents to talk to their kids about the dangers of the internet and what to do if someone approaches them with an inappropriate request.
“Sextortion is not a crime defined by sex, race, education, geography, or a family's affluence - any child can be a victim of sexual exploitation. The FBI is fully committed to working with our law enforcement partners to educate adults and children, investigate allegations, provide appropriate victim services, and prosecute predators,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Derrickson said today. “Prompt reporting is key in stopping these crimes, capturing the perpetrator, and preventing further victimization. The FBI relies on assistance from the community, especially in these types of sensitive investigations. Please do not be afraid or ashamed to contact authorities or tell a trusted adult to report suspected or actual exploitation.”
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Bubar, it is an unfortunate reality that individuals contact minors online and attempt to extort them, seeking inappropriate pictures or videos.
Last month in federal court in Roanoke, the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted a Roanoke man who had been communicating with a minor. Over the course of several months, the defendant used online messaging apps to communicate with the victim, and several other minors, in attempts to convince them to send him nude pictures and videos of themselves.
Acting SAC Derrickson offered some advice on how parents can keep their children safe while navigating the ever-expanding online world:
Advice for Children:
- Be selective about what you share online.
- Be cautious of anyone you meet online for the first time - block/ignore messages from strangers.
- Know that people can pretend to be anything/anyone online. Images can be altered or stolen.
- Be suspicious if you meet someone on one app and they ask you to move to a different platform.
- Know and assume that any content you create online -- texts, photos/images or videos -- will be made public, permanently. Nothing "disappears" online, and once sent you have no control over where it goes.
- Be willing to ask for help.
Advice for Adults:
- Maintain active engagement with your children. Open the door and encourage an open and honest conversation about online activity and possible victimization.
- Place limits on internet use.
- Consider shutting down Wi-Fi during overnight hours.
- Review settings on social media and ensure they are set at the strictest level possible.
- Spot check phones and other devices.
- Know what apps are being used.
- Know who is communicating with your child.
- Be aware of what is being downloaded.
- Know passwords to electronic devices.
Most importantly, if you feel you may have been a victim, or have seen something online you believe may be illegal, report it immediately by calling your local police department or contacting the FBI at:
- FBI Richmond 804-261-1044
- FBI Tip-Line, 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324)
- FBI Online Tipline: https://tips.fbi.gov/
There are also more resources available at fbi.gov/about/community-outreach/safe-online-surfing-sos-program and sos.fbi.gov/en/.