Homeland Security Investigations seeing increase in online child exploitation during coronavirus pandemic

Homeland Security Investigations Victim Assistance Specialist Alia El-Sawi said she expected more cases since kids are spending more time on the keyboard.

"A lot of the predators that are also having to shelter in place, they're having more access at home online. That combination just, unfortunately, brewed a whole slew of issues when it comes to child exploitation. I think that we all saw it coming, unfortunately," El-Sawi said.

The Atlanta field office told us since COVID-19 pushed students into virtual learning, they're investigating more social media and online complaints involving child predators.

"It affects children of all ages," El-Sawi mentioned.

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As a result, she put together a series of virtual training sessions for parents and students.

"My message was to let parents know that if a child, of any age, is using social media or some of these apps to be aware of some of the red flags that perhaps their child is being taken advantage of," she mentioned.

Some red flags include kids receiving gifts from people you don't know or trying to hide what they're doing online.

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She poses multiple questions for students.

"What does it mean to put too much out there? What does it mean to accept a friend request from someone that you think you may know," she posed.

She said children and young adults should always this when browsing.

"A lot of the kids were just shocked at how prevalent it is to be approached by someone that is a complete stranger online," El-Sawi explained.

“During this COVID pandemic we have seen an uptick in online child exploitation activities, making this training more vital now than ever,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Protecting children from predators is one of HSI’s highest priorities, but we can’t do it alone; parents need to ensure their kids are using their phones and computers safely and be able to identify potential threats.”

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HSI also said kids aren't just at risk online during this pandemic.

"You may have a situation, for instance, where you're having to shelter in place with a family member that, you know, you're typically not around as much. We're seeing that, unfortunately, some of these kids are being preyed upon," El-Sawi detailed.

For more information on the next session, click here.

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