News 13 Investigates: Internet predators using online games to lure children

Grand Strand

HORRY CO., (WBTW)- The video game Fortnite has become a cultural phenomenon with both kids and adults. Law enforcement officials are warning parents about child sexual predators using the chat room in the game to lure children. 

Fortnite Battle Royal, the free video game drops 100 players on an island battling each other until one is left standing. Industry experts said multi-player social gaming is the way of the future, but with 125 million players logging on, officials said these virtual worlds become a place where predators can blend in.

The Horry County Sheriff’s office said they get “referalls” from social media apps weekly or even several times a month.

“It’s kind of the world we’re living in right now,” said Lt. Sherri Smith.

Lt. Sherri Smith with the Horry County Sheriff’s office oversees their Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. They work in conjunction with the South Carolina Attorney Generals Office and federal agencies.

“You used to worry about someone approaching your child, but now you have to worry about who’s behind that screen,” said Lt. Smith.

Users can play Fortnite with their friends on consoles, PCs and even smartphones. There’s both voice chat and on-screen text chat options, which can expose children to strangers.

The Horry County sheriff’s office said predators will start chatting on the game then lure them to other social media platforms.

“Do you have instagram? It will be easier to chat over there. Do you want to go over to instagram and chat and not be over here?  And that’s how they get to them, so they’ll divert them from where they are to another site where they have more privacy,” said Lt. Smith.

Lt smith said they had one case that didn’t have to do with exploitation, but scammed for money. While Fortnite is free, players can pay for accessories including costumes called skins and even dance moves.

“They think they’re just innocently giving it to a friend, and say hey here’s my credit card number and I want this for my game. Then they have that credit card information and can go use it for whatever,” said Lt. Smith.

The Sheriff’s Office said referrals they get can be a phone call from a parent or when social media sites or games like Fortnite get a complaint.  That’s then sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children then to the Sheriff’s Office. 

News 13 asked how they investigate refferals, but they weren’t able to say without hindering any of their tactics.

Statistics from the Crimes Against Children Research Center said, one in five children between 10 and 17 years of age reported receiving unwanted sexual solicitation online. The Horry County Sheriff’s Office said a lot of the time it goes unreported. That same study showed only a quarter of those who encountered sexual solicitation told a parent. 

Luckily, for Modesty Brantley her 10 year old son told her about something that raised some red flags.

“My son said I made a friend in Fortnite and we’re supposed to get back on at 3:30 to play and immediately we didn’t recognize the name or who that person was,” said Modesty Brantley.

Modesty said she keeps a watchful eye anytime her son is playing Fortnite. 

“We make sure that they only play with friends that we know and trust and even to the point that we know their parents. When he plays his door is open, we are listening to his conversations that he’s having with his friends and we have the mics so that we can hear what they’re saying,” said Brantley.

That’s exactly what the Horry County Sheriff’s office tells parents to do.

They said:

  • Talk to your children
  • Tell them to never share personal information including photos.
  • Only play with people you know in real life.
  • Play where parents can hear
  • Disable chat functions.
  • Have access to your child’s phone and social media accounts.

“It’s something that we take seriously and as sad as it is that we have to we have to assume that there are dangers everywhere,” said Brantley.

The Horry County Sheriff’s Office said to please report anything to them because whoever is contacting your child will turn around and contact another child.

For more warning signs go to https://www.kidsmartz.org/ or the Horry County Sheriff’s Office webpage http://www.communitynotification.com/cap_safety.php?office=54080

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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