We know the rules: Never talk to strangers, be wary if a random person approaches you, et cetera. But online games, such as Fortnite, are becoming an online predator’s secret weapon in luring unsuspecting kids—and cops are warning parents to beware.
Last week, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of 24 adults for allegedly posing as teenagers on social media and gaming apps in an attempt to elicit sex from minors. The predators thought they were talking to 14-15-year-old boys or girls, but in reality, they were communicating with undercover police officers. When the predators went to meet the teens, instead, they were greeted by law enforcement and arrested.
Incidents like these are increasing in frequency as predators have new ways to communicate with kids. One of their favorite new methods—via in-game chat functions in Fortnite, as well as other games like Minecraft and Roblox.
Players think they’re communicating with like-minded teens, unaware that the person on the other end is actually an adult predator trying to dupe them. The intentions could simply be to gather personal information in an attempt to exploit the teen for, say, identity theft. The other end of the spectrum is even scarier: The predator is trying to meet the teen.
“It is a frightening reality that sexual predators are lurking on social media, ready to strike if they find a child who is vulnerable,” warned state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
FOR KIDS: What can you do protect yourself?
- Set your accounts to private and only accept friend requests from people you know in real life.
- Never post personal information on any chat forum or social media site.
- Never arrange to meet anyone you met online.
- If in doubt, ask your parents or another friend for help and advice. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
- Use Hotspot Shield VPN to prevent cybercriminals from tracking you. Hotspot Shield is a free app that makes you ‘invisible’ online by switching out your real IP address.
- Be on your guard. Understand that this issue is increasingly common and you need to remain vigilant at all times.
- If you are engaged in communication with someone you don’t know, ask them personal questions so you can do your research. Find out what school they go to, where they live, and then Google their information to verify what they’re saying. Of course, they may not be willing to give you that information, and that doesn’t mean they’re a predator. They could be being smart like you. One option might be to Facetime so you can verify who they are.
FOR PARENTS: What can you do to protect your kids?
- Firstly, talk to them—be involved. Don’t lecture. Inform and educate them on what dangers to look out for.
- Set up your own accounts and follow them. You aren’t ‘stalking’, you’re merely ensuring they’re safe.
- Be aware that kids often set up secondary social accounts to fool parents. There’s the ‘family’ account, and then the ‘real’ account. This is where a strong, honest, and open relationship with your child is super important. You want them to feel comfortable talking to you.
- Take a look over their shoulder from time to time and make sure nothing seems off. Also, consider using device tracking (like Find My Friends) to keep tabs of where they are. While your teen might not like that idea, you’re only doing it for their safety.
- Make sure they are connected to Hotspot Shield VPN so their identity and location are protected whenever they are online.
While news about predators using Fortnite is scary, don’t let that deter you from playing the game. If you’re aware of the dangers, you can stay safe.
And if you’re looking to access any game or social site on restricted WiFi networks—like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, Fire Emblem Heroes, Pokemon, Netflix, YouTube, Snapchat, and more—we have a ton of content on our blog you’ll love. So follow along.