How to keep your children safe from online predators

On Thursday, Lt. Matt Hill with the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office joined Eyewitness News to tell us what parents can do to keep their children safe from online predators.

Watch the interview above or read the transcript here:

Amy Mangold:Welcome back, the phone lines remain open tonight for our Cybersafe Parent Initiative.  Eyewitness News along with the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office and the EVSC  have teamed up to help parents learn the dangers their child faces in the cyberworld. Let's go back live to Shelley Kirk at our call center at the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office where experts continue to take your calls so give them a call. Hi Shelley.

Shelley Kirk: Amy we are here and the lines are pretty busy as folks are calling in with questions and concerns about how to keep our kids safe on social media and on the internet. You know, we hear statistics out there. If you have a child between the ages of 10 and 17,  about 1 in 5 kids are being sexually solicited. Now that is an alarming number.That means, take your child and add four of his friends together, and one of them could be sexually solicited on the internet or on social media. Now we're going to have Lt. Matt Hill from the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office step in here and talk to us a little bit more about this. First of all, Lt. Hill, have you ever investigated something like this before?

Lt. Hill: Oh yes, I have investigated this. It's unfortunately far too common between us and other agencies in this jurisdiction, we hear about numerous kids involved in these types of situations.

SK: Some of us may think that primarily it's girls, but we were talking earlier that it can be anybody, right?

Lt. Hill: Absolutely. It's boys, it's girls, and the demographics aren't limited to one certain section. It's the demographics of both the children, the victims, and the perpetrators range throughout society.

SK: I would think the internet and social media is perfect for these types of predators because it's anonymous. I mean, they can sit in the darkness of their own home and do these terrible things.

Lt. Hill: Absolutely, the perception of anonymity is one of the many reasons why we see these crimes constantly occurring. People think they can sit in their car, in their house, wherever and do all of this type of stuff and never get caught. But in actuality, once parents catch on to what's happening law enforcement is able to go and investigate and identify these people.

SK: What should parents do?

Lt. Hill: Again, I say all the time, be constantly vigilant on what their child is doing, be aware of what's on the phone, what's on the computer. Remember it's your device. It's not the child's device. Every night, if you can, take it and just look at it. See what pictures are on there. See what messages are being sent. See who they're communicating with and make sure you know who they're communicating with.

SK: What kind of signs... What would pose a red flag?

Lt. Hill: Red flags that I've seen in the past are gifts that come from unknown sources, cash that comes from unknown sources, and if your child is all of a sudden spending money and you don't know where they're getting that money -- start monitoring what they're doing, where they're getting it, and look at the mail. Look at any packages that are delivered. Look at everything.

SK: Be vigilant?

Lt. Hill: Be vigilant.

SK: Now this is part of, we were talking earlier, of a grooming process. Talk to us about that. What does that mean?

Lt. Hill: Grooming is where the perpetrator is actually not committing a crime. He's just becoming a friend. He's lending an ear. He's being sympathetic. You know, every complaint or gripe that the child might have -- he or she is being sympathetic to that. They're trying to give them a solution. They're also usually undercutting the parents' authority by saying, "Yeah, your parents shouldn't do that. That's not right." You know, you're a grown up. You should be able to do whatever you want. They will do whatever they can to psychologically undermine the parents' authority and develop a dependence upon them whether it's true or perceived to get that child to want to be with the offender more, to deepen the relationship with that offender.

SK: And just so parents know, if we haven't already said this, they don't present themselves as a grown person, right?

Lt. Hill: Most of the time they don't present themselves. Most of the time they're presenting themselves as within the same age group or maybe a little bit older just to maybe take the edge off of the creepy factor.

SK: And how do they find our kids?

Lt. Hill: They just start looking. I mean, really and truly, with the social media the way it is, the information that children are willing to put out, they just kind of go through there and say 'I wanna find a person of this age group, this race, this sex.' They start searching and narrow down their searches and click on a direct message or a message or a snap or whatever.

SK: Should parents be talking to the kids about that? About being careful about what they put out there?

Lt. Hill: All the time. They should always get the point to the child -- limit what information you're giving up, limit what information is allowing anybody to know -- in order to protect themselves.

SK: And when it gets really serious is when they want a face-to-face meeting, right?

Lt. Hill: Absolutely, any child who gets a request for a face-to-face meeting with somebody they've never met, should immediately be going to their parents and telling them.

SK: All right, Lt. Matt Hill from the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office, thank you for giving us those tips and talking to us about this. Of course, that's why we're here: we're trying to give you the information that you need to keep your kids safe online in the cyberworld and the social media world as well. And behind me, we have the call center still going. We got folks calling in asking those questions. How to keep our kids safe? What do I do? How do I become more computer literate so I know what my kids are doing? That's what this panel can do. They can help you answer those questions. They're going to be here til 7 o'clock tonight. You've got the number on your screen. Give them a call and they'll help you. They'll walk you through this so we can keep our kids safe. We'll have more coming up at 5. We have an investigator. A police officer that investigates sexual predators. We'll hear from him coming up shortly on Eyewitness News at 5. Amy.

AM: All right, we'll look forward to that. Thank you Shelley.

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