How to Recognize an Online Predator
Technology can be a positive, fun part of life. Many people, especially young adults, enjoy spending a lot of time online. Unfortunately, the digital world can have just as many dangers as the "real" world. Online predators are one of the greatest threats to your personal safety on the internet. An online predator is an adult who seeks to exploit youths for sexual or other harmful purposes. If you or someone you know is a teen who regularly uses the internet, take steps to stay safe. It is vital that you learn the warning signs of predators and know what steps to take if you encounter them. If you learn the signs and use your common sense, you can continue to stay safe online.
Identifying the Warning Signs
Learn common traits of predators.Many online predators are looking to sexually exploit children or teens. They may be pedophiles or child molesters. There are many characteristics that are typical of predators.
- Generally, pedophiles are outgoing and engaging. If you meet someone online who seems overly friendly, be cautious.
- Child molesters actively target their prey. They might use the Internet to seek out a child they know from the neighborhood, work, or school.
- Be aware that online predators can be complete strangers or someone you actually know.
Understand grooming."Grooming" is the process that the predator uses to gain a child's trust. Grooming can happen over a relatively short period of time, such as one conversation. It can also occur over a longer stretch, like a couple of weeks or even months.
- A predator is typically an adult. During the initial interactions, they might lie about their age in order to gain trust.
- During the grooming process, the predator will try to establish a connection with the young person. For example, they might try to figure out which activities their prey enjoys and talk about them.
- If a predator learns that you play soccer, for instance, they might say, "Where do you play? I play every weekend. Which team are you on?" They will agree with you, but may not know the details of the topic, so ask them about details of what they claim is true.
Be wary of requests to meet.When you are unsure who you are dealing with online, there are several specific things to look out for. Being aware of warning signs can help keep you and your family safe. After the initial grooming period, many online predators will ask for an in-person meeting. This is a red flag.
- If someone says, "I really need to meet you in person", be aware that could be a sign of a predator.
- Be especially cautious if there are repeated requests. If someone tries to insist on meeting you, you need to question their motives.
- Try saying, "I enjoy chatting online about school, but it's making me uncomfortable that you are pressuring me to meet. Would you mind cooling it?"
Watch out for flattery.Online predators often try to emotionally manipulate their prey. They may offer compliments as a way to gain favor. Be wary of effusive flattery.
- If you have pictures of yourself online, a predator might comment on your appearance. Make sure that only friends you know and trust can view your photos.
- Consider it a warning sign if someone says something like, "You're so pretty. I can get you a modeling contract."
Identify suspicious behavior.Any statement that can be perceived as a threat is another warning sign. An online predator might try to scare a person into doing what they want. If someone threatens you, exit the site or chat room immediately.
- A threat could be something like, "Don't tell your parents you've been talking to me. I'll find out."
- A predator could also threaten you by saying, "If you don't meet me, I'll tell your friends your secrets."
- A request for personal information is also suspicious. Do not give out your phone number or address.
Look for changes in your child's behavior.Maybe you are concerned that your child is being targeted by an online predator. There are several warning signs you can look for. Think about whether your child:
- Is secretive about online activities
- Seems obsessed with being online
- Tries to hide the screen from view when an adult enters the room
- Receives calls or texts from someone you don't know
- Downloads pornography and or makes their own pornography for the predator
Handling Your Suspicions
Talk to your child.If you are worried that your child is interacting with a predator, your first step is to talk to your child. Make it clear that you are worried, not angry. Ask your child questions to determine what is going on.
Check your computer.If you suspect that an online predator is targeting someone in your home, you can check your computer. Make sure that you have security software installed. This can help protect your computer from spyware and viruses.
- Run a security scan to see if any programs have been added to your computer without your knowledge.
- Check for suspicious downloads. Look to see if there is any concerning new material on your computer, such as pornography.
- Make sure to regularly inspect all of the computers in your house. Don't forget laptops and tablets.
Contact the CyberTipline.This resource is mandated by Congress. You can contact the tipline 24/7 to report suspected incidents of abuse. You can report inappropriate sexual advances and any distribution of unsolicited sexual material.
- Go to the website at www.cybertipline.com
- You can also call 1-800-843-5678
Check the sex offender registry.Many online predators have been convicted of a sexual offense. The sex offender registry is public information. Check your area to see if a potential sexual predator lives in your community.
- Family Watchdog is a site that allows parents to check their area for registered sex offenders. Enter your address to determine if anyone in your area is registered.
- You should also check the address for your child's school, and other frequently visited areas.
Contact the authorities.If you or someone you know is concerned that you are being targeted by an online predator, you should report it. Contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to make a report. You can reach that agency at 1800TheMissing.
- You can also contact the FBI to make a report.
- If you are concerned about immediate danger, contact your local police department. Ask for an officer to come to your home to take a report.
Staying Safe Online
Set boundaries.If you have a child or teen who is regularly online, you want to make sure that they follow basic safety guidelines. Set clear rules for your child's online activities. Then, clearly communicate these boundaries to your teen.
- Make a "no delete" rule. Tell your child not to clear their search history or cache. From time to time, check to see what they've been looking at.
- Set a time limit. For example, allow your child to be online in the evening, but make sure they disconnect by 9 p.m.
- Be aware of who their "friends" are. Make sure your teen can clearly explain who they are interacting with.
Purchase safety software.Sometimes boundaries aren't enough. You can use technology to help keep your family members safe. Consider purchasing security software to install on all family computers.
- These programs can send alerts when someone tries to access questionable sites.
- Safety software can also record all online activity, so you can tell with certainty which sites your child has visited.
- Some programs can also prevent new windows from opening. This can help keep you and your family from accidentally stumbling into dangerous territory.
Avoid chat rooms.One of the best ways to stay safe is to avoid going into a private chat room. If someone asks you (or your child) to leave the group chat, consider this a warning sign. Inappropriate comments are most often made in private rooms.
- Leave a chat immediately if you feel uncomfortable. Teach your family members to do the same.
- If asked to go in a private chat room, you can say, "No, thanks. I'm cool hanging here with the group."
Listen to your instincts.Go with your gut. If something feels "off", you need to do something or say something. If your instincts tell you that you are dealing with a predator, cut off contact immediately. Tell your parents or a friend about your suspicions.
- This is good advice for parents, too. If your instincts tell you that your child is dealing with a predator, don't ignore the feeling.
- Talk to your child immediately, and investigate your suspicions.
QuestionWhy do people do this in the first place?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere will always be some people who have poor boundaries and sick minds. It's just an unfortunate part of human communities but one that alert people from children to the very old can manage by knowing the signs and shutting down such persons before they cause damage. It is much more productive to know what to do to protect yourself and your children than to bemoan the bad behavior of some people. Don't let the rotten eggs spoil your journey through life -- be strong, be alert and be safe.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I know if I am talking to a predator?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThanks!
QuestionWhat do I do if I am uncomfortable with someone telling me they love me early on in the dating relationship?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLet him know you feel uncomfortable with it, and that he's moving way too fast. If he doesn't respect what you say, and back off, you should get away from this person immediately.Thanks!
QuestionI want to talk to my new internet friend via Skype, but how can I tell if they're legit or not?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTell them to send you a picture of them holding a paper with their username.Thanks!
QuestionI started talking to this boy on a game and he said he's 14, but my mom said I shouldn't talk to him anymore. I miss him a lot, was what I was doing okay? I'm 12.HannahelpsCommunity AnswerYes, what you were doing was okay, at least at first. But if your mom advises you to stop talking to him, it's probably best to listen to her. She might have reasons that you don't know - but no matter what, she is doing it for your safety. Do not talk to this boy after your mom told you not to!Thanks!
QuestionOne of my close friends keeps asking me for my age. Is that a warning sign?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNot necessarily. They might just be curious. They might even want to make sure they're not talking to some middle-aged predator themselves - and could find it shady that you're so resistant to tell them how old you are. There isn't anything wrong with asking about someone's age or sharing your own.Thanks!
QuestionWhat are the warning signs for sexual predators?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerA sexual predator may start off conversations innocently and then gradually start introducing sexual/inappropriate commentary. They may ask for nude/sexual pictures or ask you to describe what you are wearing/doing. If you feel like you are communicating with a sexual predator, block/ignore the person immediately and report it to an authority figure.Thanks!
QuestionThere's this guy I've been talking to for a month. I don't know if he's a predator or not, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. How do I tell him that I can't talk to him anymore without hurting his feelings?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerOption 1: just slowly start to drift away from his life. Answer his messages later and later each time, until eventually you simply don't answer anymore. Option 2: just let him know that you can't speak to him anymore. You don't have to tell him that you think he's a predator, but you don't have to lie completely either. Just cut him off, you don't owe anyone anything in life -- especially some random person online. If you feel your safety is at risk, then the other person's feelings should be the least of your concern.Thanks!
QuestionThere's this guy on Instagram. He said he is 15. He DMed me. He kept asking for pics of my feet, and I denied. I'm 11. He's showed over 3 red flags. I blocked him. Was this right?Community AnswerYes, but you should probably report him as well.Thanks!
QuestionAre online predators usually psychopathic?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThey usually have some sort of mental issues, but it's not necessarily psychopathy.Thanks!
There is a person on my hangouts that calls us colorful words and tells us our own personal information. How do I deal with that?
- Always remember that if a user of the site you're on makes you uncomfortable or appears to be a predator, there are other sites you can visit to get away from danger.
- If you are a parent and you feel your child/teen needs more protection/guidance, then buy a site blocker or monitoring program. Don't let online enemies in your home to begin with.
- A large number of online predators will lie about their age to either match or more closely mesh with the target's young age (i.e a 35-year-old man bumping his age down the to early 20s for instance).
- Look for awkward attempts to emulate current youth lingo and jargon. Also look for dated slang that might accidentally turn up.
- Other red flags include over-reliance on chatspeak (lols for example) as well as references to pop culture that haven't been relevant for over ten years.
- If you are from the U.K., and you think you could be the prey of an online predator, call childline at 0800 1111 or the police, 999. If you are from America, call the police or the FBI.
- If your family uses a family computer, make sure it is in an open spot where anyone can see what is on the screen.
- Remember that you can always block the person, make another account, or stop using a chat service. The only thing keeping you talking to the person is their "charm", which they use to their advantage.
- Never give out any extra personal information other than an online name. Also, don't ever send them a picture of you, especially if you're undressed. Online information and pictures can be used against you.
Video: 7 Signs of Grooming by a Sexual Predator
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