With the pandemic-forced closure of schools and a surplus of free time on their hands, minors are currently at greater risk of encountering all manner of criminals online, warns the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The offenders may even pose as minors in an attempt to lure their targets into a trap and abduct them.

“While criminals exploit social media and social networks to commit crimes involving child sexual abuse material, sex trafficking of a minor, and child sex tourism, the use of these platforms to facilitate child abductions is lesser-known,” said the Bureau. Indeed, the FBI recently warned that human traffickers were luring victims using dating apps.

The modus operandi of child abductors involves creating accounts on various social media networks and dating platforms, where they search for their prospects. The offenders will then contact and attempt to groom the targets, eventually convincing them to meet up with the aim of abducting them. Using these platforms proves to be an attractive method of initiating contact since it’s not as risky as trying to lure the victims in person.

While the number of kidnappings where social media platforms were used to establish contact account for just a small part of the FBI’s child abduction investigations, the proliferation and availability of the internet in combination with the time minors spend on it are likely to exacerbate the problem.

According to a survey by YouGov, 2 in 5 children aged 8-12 years spend two hours and more online, with almost half of those aged 13-17 saying that they spend a similar amount of time online with at least some of it dedicated to using social media. Although most social media apps require account holders to be at least 13, it’s safe to say that many children set up their profiles sooner than that – with or without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

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The Bureau also described three cases where victims were abducted after being contacted by criminals on social media apps. All three children were eventually reunited with their families, but the incidents clearly make a case for monitoring children’s social media use.

For starters, parents should actively discuss social media use with their children. By having these discussions early and clearly explaining the risks, parents can lower the chances of their children using these platforms in ways that may hurt them. If you’d like to take an even more active role in your children’s social media journey, you can use parental controls such as TikTok’s Family pairing or Facebook’s Messenger Kids.

Importantly, comprehensive parental control tools are often integrated into security software and can be very helpful when it comes to keeping an eye on what your offspring are up to online

To learn more about more dangers faced by children online as well as about how not only technology can help, head over to Safer Kids Online.