Homeland Security: Kids at Risk of On Line Exploitation During Summer

School's out for summer, and when kids are on the couch or the computer, its prime time for child predators, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.

In the age of social media, parents could get by with monitoring their kid's Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, but Homeland Security Special Agent Michael Lopez says, these days, parents have to be savvier.

"There are many new apps and games with chatting capabilities where adults can mask their identity as kids," he says.

The Division Chief who heads up a Human Exploitation Group in San Antonio says the bad guys are often ahead of parents when it comes to finding a way to get to kids.  That's when he says they start the process of grooming them to open up.

"These new gaming systems have a chatting capability. They tend to befriend these kids on these chats and gain their trust, and they tend to steer them to other apps where they can exploit them," he explains.

While adults can easily sniff out a fake, he says parents need to remember that their kids are less aware of frauds online.

A recent case in San Antonio is a prime example of the dangers of kids acting unrestricted online.

 Robert Christiansen pled guilty to convincing a South Carolina teen to hop on a Greyhound bus and drive halfway across the country so they could complete a sexual relationship that had built up online.

FBI Special Agent Jim Thompson, who was involved in the raid of Christiansen's home, says the case is a prime example of why parents need to play close attention to what their kids are doing online, especially with smartphones.

"It may look completely innocent to parents who just see their kids crouched over their phone," he says.  "Meanwhile, they're secretly in touch with someone who wants to lure them away from home."

In online chats Christiansen, would pose as a psychologist.  He admitted to FBI agents he deliberately began grooming the girl, telling her that if she came to live with him in San Antonio, he could cure her depression and she would not have limits on social media.

In that video, played in court, Christiansen told FBI agents he knew the victim was a minor and he didn't see anything wrong with luring her away from home. 

"It's not like I committed a crime, or theft, or worse."

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