OKLAHOMA CITY – The days of unsupervised trips to the neighborhood park are long gone. Predators, lurking around the playground have chased our children indoors.
But those same cyber strangers are stalking these digital playgrounds, coming into our home through online, interactive games to gain access to innocent and unsuspecting children.
Parent, Richard Valadez said, “You can be anything you want on the internet and there is nothing to stop them. That’s what I’m worried about. Like that football player from Notre Dame. He thought he was talking to a beautiful woman.”
Richard’s 13-year-old son and his friends spend countless hours playing video games. He said suspicious, suggestive, even menacing messages are all too common.
“People coming on saying, ‘I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ Inappropriate stuff,” he said.
We wanted to see for ourselves, so we created a bogus account. Posing as a 13-year-old girl, it didn’t take long for another anonymous player to swoop in.
An undercover Oklahoma City Police detective told us, “We literally have dozens of reports per week of potential approaches.”
In 2010, 45-year-old Annamay Alexander drove to Oklahoma from Florida to meet a teen she’d met through a video gaming console.
She’s now serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison.
The Oklahoma City Police Department has an undercover unit aggressively pursuing these online pedophiles. But parents, like Richard, need to be vigilant too.
Valadez said, “We need to keep a close eye on our kids and who they are playing with.”
Experts offer these suggestions:
- Bond with your kids, even if you’re not a fan of those video games.
- Don’t be afraid to spy.
- See who is on your child’s friend list.
- Teach them online safety, to be aware of those dangers and report them immediately.
In an operation called “Operation Game Over,” Microsoft, Sony, Disney Interactive Media Group, Electronic Arts and other gaming companies agreed to shut down the accounts of more than 3,500 registered sex offenders in New York in 2012.
Attorney Generals throughout the nation advise parents to choose games that are age-appropriate; use game console’s parental controls, keep the console in a public area of the home and talk to kids about protecting identifying information.
Police said these are simple safeguards that could mean “game over” for on-line predators.