Special Report: Video Game Predators - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Special Report: Video Game Predators


By Laurie Bernstein - bio | email

ATLANTA, Ga. (WTVM)-Whether it be a guns blazing shootout, or a trek through a land full of fantasy, the gaming world has something for everyone.

Video games, whether it be through consoles, computers, or even cell phones, have pervaded youth pop culture and become one of the most popular activities that captivate a child's attention.

"They're at home in a safe environment, playing a game that mom and dad bought them, on the Internet that mom and dad pay for, and their guard isn't always up," said Special Agent Vaughn Estes of the GBI's Hi-Tech Unit in Atlanta.

Experts say it should be, though, now that these video games have gone live, or online.

The GBI's Hi-Tech unit is solely dedicated to working cases involving sex crimes against children on the Internet.

Now, they say predators have found a new way to target children.

"A lot of the reports we get through the Center of Missing and Exploited children are in reference to things happening more and more on video gaming systems," said Special Agent in Charge John Whitaker, Head of the Hi-Tech Unit.

"They'll befriend someone, playing different scenarios over a month, and earn their trust. The will become teammates, give gifts online...the old cliché of little girl wants some candy applies to the online gaming world," said Special Agent Estes.

The trend started to emerge about two years ago, and now, these agents have equipped themselves to actively work cases involving video game consoles like XBox and online games like World of Warcraft.

Microsoft even traveled to Atlanta come in and teach the agents how to do forensics on their gaming systems.

All to try and keep up with the ever evolving methods of child sex predators.

"We stay in the chat room or game room depending on what the situation is, and we pretend to be a child on our end. We communicate with the offender as if we were a child ourselves, and wait till they make their move to meet us or send a web cam or send us images of pornography," said Special Agent In Charge Whitaker.

"They build your trust, and next thing you know, they are asking for your e-mail address, befriending you...you never know who your talking to or dealing with," said Special Agent Estes.

These agents have worked gaming cases involving child pornography all the way to actual attempted abductions.

With all the disturbing things they see on a daily basis, they say parents should be extremely worried.

"They can be anywhere in the country, in the world even, and as long as they have Internet access, they can be playing. They can be in Canada, they can be down the street, you just don't know," said Special Agent Estes.

"It makes the situation dangerous, because they think they are talking to a child, and it ends up they are really talking to an adult," said Special Agent in Charge Whitaker.

As the technology gets more involved, so will the predator's techniques.

According to the numbers, one in five children will be sexually solicited online at some point during their young lives.

These agents say active parenting is the best defense to make sure your child doesn't become one of those statistics.

"Just because you don't understand computer games, that's okay, but it's part of their world. They're growing up with it, and it will be in their world everyday, so you need to educate yourselves to protect your children," said Special Agent Estes.

These GBI agents say there are a few ways parents can be pro-active in protecting their kids.

First off -- don't ban video games completely...kids will just find another way to play them, outside your supervision.

If you do let them play online, have them play with people they know, actual kids in their class at school, and don't let them join pick-up groups or talk to strangers.

Also, it's your job to supervise -- keep the video game systems out in the open, not in the kids rooms, so you can see what they are doing at all times.

Don't allow headsets that often come with certain games...instead, hook up the audio to a loud speaker, so you can hear what people are saying to your children when they are playing.

Finally, and probably most important, you have to communicate with your children about the potential dangers of gaming.

If you talk to your kids, they will know right from wrong and when something is fishy, to let you know.


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