MERIDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — It can be an impossible task – keeping your kids safe online with ever-changing technology and social media.
“Unfortunately, there are predators out there and they are targeting your children,” Meriden Police Det. Sgt. Erik Simonson said.
It takes only a tap or click of a button to connect with someone online.
“A lot of our cases start from children being unsupervised with devices and being on social media, chat rooms, even online video games,” Simonson said.
Simonson leads the Meriden Police Department’s Special Crimes Unit which investigates sex offenses and juvenile cases.
“More and more, we’re doing enticement cases,” Simonson said. “A predator doesn’t just target one person, but they can throw out this mass thing that looks like it’s directed to that one child. If they get one person out of 100, that’s a win for them.”
He told News 8 that a lot of times, predators pretend to be teenagers and make themselves out to seem much younger than they actually are.
“We’ve had cases where an adult has pretended to be a teenager or a peer and gotten sexually explicit photos and they’ve blackmailed the child for money, gift cards,” he said. “They’re doing that overseas, but they’re doing that to children in Connecticut.”
Just this month in Meriden, 26-year-old Jean Cartagena was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl after meeting on the app Snapchat. It’s a case the Special Crimes Unit investigated.
“Cell phones are ubiquitous,” Simonson said. “Kids are getting them younger and younger. We’ve had cases with kids as young as ten years old, which is shocking.”
So, what can you do to keep your kids safe?
“I think the number one tip I would give would be to have an open line of communication,” he recommended. “That’s going to allow you to discuss the dangers online. Obviously, you talk about it in an age-appropriate manner for your particular kid.”
Simonson also recommends the following tips to keep children safe while they’re online:
- Turning location services off
- Have access to kids’ passwords and recently deleted photos and text messages
- Charging devices in common spaces
“Most of our cases stem from when the kids have their devices and they’re in their bedrooms, they’re behind a closed door,” he said.
If you suspect your child is the victim of one of these crimes, contact local law enforcement right away. There are also resources that Meriden Police said families can access, including the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC), and Family Online Safety Institute.