Predators, Part II: 6 Ways Predators Contact Your Kids
In the previous part of our series on online predators, we talked about the way they’re actually behaving today – and how it’s really nothing like the cliche image of an impulsive pedophile.
Now that we know what predators are doing, it’s time to take a look at how. These are the six most prominent ways that predators are reaching out to your kids.
Method 1: Chat Rooms
If you asked one of today’s teens whether or not a predator was trying to stalk them through a chat room, they’d probably fall over laughing and tell you that “nobody uses those anymore” – and to be fair, they’re kind of right.
However, many social networks do have chat functions where groups of people can all gather together at once – and programs like Omegle specifically allow strangers to talk with each other. In fact, as of the time this guide was written, their home page specifically noted that predators were known to use the program.
In most cases, though, predators use interest-based chat rooms – for example, they might search for chats about animals and wildlife in hopes of finding a shared interest they can use to connect with someone. Completely random chats aren’t quite as effective for what they’re trying to do.
Beating This Method: Talk to your children about good chat room practices – including not giving out any personal information. If they really want to meet with someone, they should talk with you about it – and together, you can come up with a plan to verify the other person’s identity and make sure it’s safe.
Method 2: Searching for Child-Oriented Screen Names
Children have very different tastes in online names than adults do – so different, in fact, that a serious browser could learn to guesstimate the age of a user simply by looking at the name they’ve chosen to use.
Once they have a name, they can start looking for more information – if the child has the same name on several social networks, for example, a search could help them cross-reference information from each profile and build a much more complete picture of who that child is. This isn’t a challenge – services like Pipl Profile Search make it easy to find all of someone’s accounts if they share certain common pieces of information.
Beating This Method: Encourage your teen to use different screen names for different sites – and possibly allow you to review them before they make their account.
Method 3: Searching through Social Network Profiles
Some social networks allow for public searching of profiles – and the age restrictions (typically 13 years old) on most networks will do exactly nothing to stop predators because they’re looking for children older than that. This is made even easier when profiles have pictures included.
Predators may also look through friends lists, on the theory that people of any given age are likely to have friends in their age group – so finding just one account could give them a dozen or more potential targets.
Beating This Method: Have your teen set their social media profiles to ‘private’ and stop them from showing up in searches. If the network in question doesn’t allow this, make sure that they don’t provide any personally identifying information to that network.
The three methods we just discussed are about how predators locate children – remember, today’s online predators tend to be patient and methodical, so they’re probably going to do a lot of research before they reach out to a kid. The rest of this is how predators can actually initiate contact.
Method 1: Striking Up A Conversation
Sometimes, the easiest way of getting in touch with someone is starting a conversation. Initial attempts at striking up a conversation tend to occur in public places – the comment sections of videos, inside of a larger group’s chat area, and so on. Once they feel they’ve caught the child’s interest, a predator may say something like “I wanted to talk more about X – do you mind if I private message you?”
This takes the conversation out of the public area – and the child’s implicit permission means they’re more likely to respond in the way the predator wants them to. Of course, in and of itself, having a private conversation is neither wrong nor dangerous. The problems only arise when teens start sharing more information than they should.
Beating This Method: Teach your child to disregard private conversation requests from people they don’t know very well – and explain that they should never give out personal information in this format.
Method 2: Showing Interest and Gaining Their Trust
One of the fastest ways of becoming someone’s friend is demonstrating interest in the same hobby. Many people immediately associate their hobby with good people – so, for example, they might think “anyone else who likes rock climbing probably isn’t a threat”.
Predators can turn this against teens by feigning an interest in their biggest hobbies and using that to gain their trust over the next few weeks (or months). People often let their guard down over time and are more willing to share contact information with friends they regard as ‘safe’.
Beating This Method: Talk to your child about how predators can try to gain their trust – and turn that against predators by also showing them how to perform a search on anyone who seems like they want more personal information.
Method 3: Building Them Up and Being Their Friend
Finally, predators have been known to pose as friends by offering words of encouragement when teens need them most. Hormones can hit hard, and a steady source of encouragement – telling a child that they’re valuable, important, and attractive – can easily rope in children who have little or no self-esteem.
Beating This Method: Teens should be independently confident, and not rely on online relationships for support. If they do, you need to get them away from the internet and help them regain their self-esteem.
If you haven’t bookmarked Teenology yet, do that now and check back soon for the third part of this series, where we’ll teach you how to tell if your child has been contacted by a predator.