HOUSTON - A special agent with the FBI cyber squad unit in Houston said no matter how many online sex offenders agents target, there is always more work to do.
"Anything where your child can touch the Internet, there is a predator out there," said Amanda Hinton, FBI Special Agent.
Hinton said smart phones, online gaming and social media sites make it easier for strangers to reach out and directly contact children.
"A lot of times predators will use social networking to basically shop for kids they are wanting," added Hinton.
The agent said children need to know not to allow people they don't know in person to be their friend on social networking sites.
"They just friend people because it makes them look more popular. I always tell them you should not friend anybody online that you don't know in person," said Hinton.
She warned predators look for children with self-esteem issues who may be sending out signals in their social media posts about feeling down.
"They will go after that in a heartbeat, not a particular child, but maybe a child that is withdrawn, maybe a loner who doesn't feel pretty. Whatever that person needs attention for the predator is going to give them that attention," said Hinton.
Children who can be convinced to take pictures of themselves with their web cam or cell phone are getting blackmailed more often according to Hinton.
"I have seen it in several cases now -- you know, right here in the Houston area -- where someone does something for the first time and the predator knows once he gets you to do that the first time, he has an in because if he can convince you not to tell your parents after the first time, he is going to get more and more out of you. I have seen it happen with more teenagers in this area," she said.
Hinton said parents need to know what computer programs their children use and be on the same sites if only to monitor their children. She said a parent's most powerful weapon to protect children from predators is to keep open communication.
"Be ready for them to come to you with some of the worst stuff you have ever heard and handle it in a calm demeanor and do not panic when you are in front of them because they have to know they can come to you.," Hinton said.
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