(Easton, MD) — Maryland State Police remind parents of online safety and to be aware of online scams involving the sexual extortion of minors.
The Maryland State Police have received numerous reports of minors being contacted by other social media users who begin chatting with them via messaging services such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Social media platforms may provide users the ability to communicate with other users via messaging services.
Investigators believe online predators may often give the impression they are romantically interested in the minor being targeted, to gain their trust. As the progress of the chat, the suspect user will request sexually illicit photographs of the minor, and might even send photographs back to the minor in return.
If a minor sends a sexually illicit photograph of themselves to the suspect account, the suspect user will proceed to demand the minor send them money, typically in the form of gift cards and prepaid credit card numbers that are readily available at most stores. The suspect accounts advise that if money is not sent, the illicit photographs of the minor will be sent to family, and friends, and posted online accompanied by distasteful comments about the minor. While not always, investigators have found that the suspect accounts typically originate from foreign countries which significantly limits the ability to formally identify a suspect.
The Criminal Enforcement Division – Eastern Region urges parents and guardians to talk to and educate their children about the importance of online safety; specifically, the following points:
- When contacted by an account you do not know, it is very possible the account does not belong to who they say they are;
- Although an account might seem harmless at first, the nature of a chat can quickly become threatening and intimidating;
- DO NOT click on unknown links / URLs sent by unknown accounts;
- DO NOT take illicit photographs of yourself;
- DO NOT send illicit photographs of yourself online;
- If you are contacted by an unknown account, it is best to ignore the message, report the account to the social media platform, and block the account from being able to view your profile.
Safety on the Internet includes the use of any device that has access to online activity. Investigators from the Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit remind all ages to be vigilant as it relates to internet safety. Children are often the target population for online criminal activity.
Parents are encouraged to monitor their children’s use of all digital devices. Digital devices include laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and ‘smartphones.
Internet Safety Tips for Parents:
- Place computers in a common area of the house and not in bedrooms
- Educate yourself about digital devices and the Internet
- Make reasonable rules and set screen time limits
- Reinforce the guiding rule “Don’t talk to strangers”
- Put accounts in your name and know your child’s passwords
- Don’t let your children give out personal information online
- Be aware of other digital devices your child may be using
- Review the use histories or logs of your digital devices to see where your children have been online
Complaints involving the exploitation of children should be filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at www.missingkids.com or 1-800-THE-LOST. Complaints of child exploitation may include harassment, cyberbullying, sexual abuse and child pornography. Maryland State Police investigators in the Computer Crimes Unit work closely with NCMEC in the investigation of crimes involving child exploitation. If a child is believed to be in imminent danger, citizens are urged to contact their local police or call 9-1-1 immediately.
The Maryland State Police Computer Crimes Unit coordinates the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. This is a combined law enforcement effort involving police departments across Maryland that is made possible in part due to grant funds provided by the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services and by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Task force investigators focus on identifying those involved in child pornography via the Internet and other related crimes that victimize children.