They pose an increasing threat in New Jersey and across the nation.
Cyber predators are constantly looking for new ways to contact and exploit children — and most parents don’t even have any idea this is happening.
“As technology develops, the number of children contacted by predators on social media increases,” State Police Lt. John Pizzuro said. “Most predators that are going to exploit children are going to reach out through the mediums that they’re already in.”
Pizzuro, commander of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, says this is challenging because new websites and apps are being created all the time.
“What happens today changes three months from now, which changes three months from now as technology advances,” he said.
New Jersey gets 2,500 cyber tips a year, the 5th highest total in the nation.
As more people use social media, the number of tips received continues to increase, and different task forces around the country work together to help track down and catch predators.
While predators used to go to places like Facebook, these days they’ll look for their next victim on less well known sites and online games like Minecraft.
“Whatever medium or whatever technology that children use, predators are looking for,” Pizzuro said.
We’ve seen the progression of Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat. Children don’t want to be where their parents are.”
Pizzuro said social media sites have become an important part of the total social network of many kids, and individuals looking to exploit children will take advantage of that.
“What they’ll do is they’ll meet someone on Minecraft or one of these other platforms and then start to groom them. What they’ll do is they’ll give them compliments, they’ll give them ‘likes,’ they’ll give them that sort of self-esteem boost, which makes the individuals feel good,” he said
At some point, predators will then either ask for naked pictures, and sometimes demand more by threatening to reveal them to other people or even the child’s parents. Or they’ll set up a face-to-face meeting with the intent of sexually assaulting the child.
Pizzuro says it can be difficult to apprehend predators, depending on how technologically savvy they are.
“However, we do have a lot of technology that we use at our disposal, that eventually we’re able to track everyone down,” he said.
When asked what type of technology is being used, he wouldn’t get specific.
“There’s not much that I really want to disclose, but we have ways of determining where predators are,” he said.
“For the most part, online predators don’t really know what type of new technology is being used by the Task Force, and we don’t want to give any information to any individuals that will allow them to be completely anonymous.”
"New Jersey gets 2,500 cyber tips a year, the 5th highest total in the nation."
State Police Det. Paul Sciortino, a member of the Digital Technology Investigations Unit, said his team was involved in more than a hundred investigations last year, resulting in the arrest of more than 250 suspects.
“We’re always working. This unit is 24-7 pretty much, especially undercover jobs — they don’t stop. Our workday, we do what we have to do and when we go home it continues, too. It’s a never-ending process.”
According to Det. Joe Santamaria, who also works in the Digital Technology Investigations Unit, there are several apps that pose a potential danger to children:
- Yik Yak
He also listed websites potentially dangerous to children: (These sites are all talk-to-stranger type of sites where it’s random and/or anonymous chat via text and/or video)
Santamaria also listed apps that hide photos, videos and other apps: (Kids have been found to be using these apps to hide what they’re doing from mom and dad)
- Hide It Pro
- Private Photo Vault
- Photo Locker
- Private Photo (icon looks like a calculator)
- KYMS (icon looks like a calculator)
“There are countless other apps and sites just like these, but these are the most popular ones being used today,” Santamaria said. “The list may change tomorrow. Unfortunately, we never know what the next trending app or site will be and we only find out that information when children get themselves into trouble utilizing the app or site.”