Child Predators Use Online Gaming to Contact Children
Some predators use online gaming to sexually exploit children. Parents and guardians—and their children—should know the risks posed by online gaming, the methods these predators use, how to keep children safe online, and what to do if their children are victimized or targeted.
The FBI defines online gaming as any game played while connected to the Internet. This includes games played through gaming consoles; handheld gaming devices; and applications on phones, tablets, or computers. All games with communication features, including basic games, can be used by child predators.
FBI investigations show that child predators seek out victims anywhere they think they can contact them. Online gaming is just one of many platforms used by child predators, in part because of its popularity. Children also tend to be trusting online and often befriend strangers of any age or sex.
Online gaming also gives predators a logical topic to start a conversation with their intended victims: their common interest in the game. Predators may pose as friendly adults or age-appropriate peers to form relationships with potential victims. They often befriend children by giving them game tips or providing game currency.
Some games include team play, or allow players to communicate through headsets, web cameras, and chat rooms. These features allow predators to generate and nurture relationships. They manipulate these relationships to groom and coerce children to send them sexually explicit images or videos, or to meet them in person for sexual purposes.
Predators also often threaten or otherwise coerce their victims to target younger children in the home who are not yet using the Internet or playing online games.
Child predators continue to take advantage of the rapid growth of online gaming. The FBI has seen predators target children of all ages through online games made for various age groups. Between May 1, 2014, and Oct. 23, 2019, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 338 complaints of crimes against children related to online gaming.
The FBI has identified many instances where child predators communicated with children through popular online games; the following are just a few examples.
- In May 2019, a 29-year-old child predator from Fresno, California, was sentenced to 14 years for coercing and enticing a young boy to produce child pornography. The predator admitted that he met an 11-year-old boy while playing an online video game. After grooming the boy, the predator suggested they use an online chatting program to communicate privately. During a chat, he coerced the boy to produce and transmit sexually explicit images of himself.
- In January 2019, a 41-year-old child predator from Broward, Florida, was arrested after he used a popular game to recruit a teen to engage in sexual activity. He also coerced her to produce pornographic photos and videos of herself. The predator manipulated the victim with gifts, including credit cards and a cellphone. He eventually arranged to meet her in person and engage in sexual activity. The subject is facing numerous charges in this case. Investigators believe there could be as many as 20 additional victims.
- In February 2018, a 24-year-old child predator from Hoffman Estates, Illinois, was arrested after he allegedly kidnapped an 11-year-old girl he met through an online game. The predator picked up the child near her Florida home, and tried to drive her back to his home. The victim’s parents reported her missing, and she was found at a hotel in Georgia and reunited with her family.
Parents and guardians can take the following measures to help educate and prevent children from becoming victims of child predators and sexual exploitation through online gaming:
- Discuss Internet safety with children before they engage in any online activity and continue those conversations as children become teenagers.
- Limit children to playing games only with people the children or adults know, or have children play in offline or creative modes.
- Ensure an adult is present and engaged when children communicate via webcam.
- Monitor activity on smart phones and mobile devices, and review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
- Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems, computers, and mobile devices.
- Make sure children know that anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or law enforcement.
- Remember that victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited. It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled or coerced to do so.
Reporting suspected exploitation can help minimize or stop further victimization, as well as lead to the identification and rescue of other possible victims.
If you believe you are—or someone you know is—the victim of child sexual exploitation:
- Contact your local law enforcement agency.
- Contact your local FBI field office (contact information can be found at www.fbi.gov).
- File a report with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-843-5678 or online at www.cybertipline.org).
- Try to keep all original documentation, emails, text messages, and logs of communication with the subject. Do not delete anything before law enforcement is able to review it.
- Tell law enforcement everything about the online encounters—we understand it may be embarrassing for the parent or child, but providing all relevant information is necessary to find the offender. When reporting online, be as descriptive as possible in the complaint form by providing the following:
- Name and/or User Name of the subject.
- Email addresses and phone numbers used by the subject.
- Web sites used by the subject.
- Description of all interaction with the subject.
- Although all of this information is not required to submit a complaint, it is helpful for law enforcement to have as much information as possible when investigating these incidents.
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