Since the COVID-19 crisis, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s (SBI) Computer Crimes Unit and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force have experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of cybertips via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC, pronounced Nick-Meck). More children and adults have been at home during the past few months than at any other time in history. Much of that time has been spent online, and unfortunately, more crimes against children have occurred.
In 2019, the SBI received 4,892 cybertips for the entire year. That was a record since the inception of our state task force 20 years earlier. By September 30, 2020, the SBI had received 6,203 cybertips since January 1, 2020, surpassing last year’s total. “We knew that would be the trend when halfway through 2020, we’d received 4,641 cybertips by June 30, 2020,” said Alan Flora, the SBI’s Computer Crimes Unit Special Agent in Charge and Commander of the NC Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. “Remember, each one of those tips is an indicator of North Carolina children in danger,” he added.
Cybertips often involve adults pressuring minors to produce sexually explicit photos or videos. If they are successful in obtaining the images, the adult predators may then use them for blackmail to compel the children into meeting for sex. Federal law requires that internet service providers and social media applications report communications indicating that a minor may be in danger of sexual exploitation. Those reports are made to NCMEC located in Alexandria, VA. NCMEC analysts then review those reports to determine the locations of the persons involved. They generate investigative leads called cybertips and send them to law enforcement agencies with the ICAC Task Force. In North Carolina, those cybertips are investigated by the SBI and dedicated ICAC partners including local law enforcement agencies.
“We will never stop working to protect children,” said Flora. “Still, the fact is we typically learn about these harmful events after they occur. The best line of defense against internet predators is vigilant parents,” he added. Flora offers this advice to parents:
- Parents must frequently communicate with their kids about who they interact with online and talk to them about what is and what isn’t acceptable online behavior.
- Parents should also warn their kids about the dangers of sharing inappropriate photos and videos.
- Also, be sure to check their phones now and then to see what apps they have and how they’re using them.
“We understand that today’s technology can be confusing and intimidating for some parents, but your kids are worth the effort,” said Flora. For more information about the NCMEC CyberTipline, please visit https://www.missingkids.org/gethelpnow/cybertipline.