The Internet Predator
Who Are They?
When we think of an “internet predator,” most of us will imagine someone who is preying upon our youth, utilizing technology for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Most internet experts agree, however, that there are 4 categories of internet predators:
1. The Emotional/Psychological Predator: this is the internet dating predator who will make you feel good, but wound you emotionally. These guys are chameleons and emotional shape shifters who change their tactics to keep you around.
2. The Sexual/Physical Predator: This is the pedophile that preys upon our children.
3. The Reputation Predator: This is the person who will look to purposely damage your good reputation via spreading falsehoods or utilizing cyberbullying.
4. The Financial Predator: This is the person who will utilize the internet to scam you out of your hard-earned money.
Specific to the sexual predator, most internet predators…
Are very computer savvy and blend well into the cyber world
Are college graduates who are clean-cut and outwardly law-abiding
Have successful careers, and use their position in society to throw off suspicion
Are usually middle-aged males who appear to be trusting to both parents and children
The internet, and its anonymity, offers a virtual place for the online predator to hunt their prey with relative freedom, be it for emotional, financial, physical, or reputational crime. Many of these predators are extremely knowledgeable in youth subject matter and current events, and they are able to speak with teens using current online lingo. They are experts at what they do. They conduct research and know how to build rapport quickly with their intended target. Of real importance is that these predators can be anyone, including police officers, lawyers, actors, doctors, teachers, coaches, and CEO’s.
I do not believe in fear mongering specific to this topic area, but I do believe that we as parents need to stay alive and vigilant to the fact that sexual predators are online. Recently, a Europol undercover operation called “Operation Rescue” busted an online pedophile ring with over 70,000 members. Out of this operation, 670 suspects were identified, with over 184 arrests made (including here in Canada), and 230 children safeguarded. Earlier in 2011, FBI Assistant Director Shawn Henry reported that his law enforcement agency estimated that there were approximately 750,000 child predators online.
Although there is a belief out there that the internet predator that specializes in child pornography does so to make money, research has found that most distribution of this type of material is done on trade rather than for financial gain. Child pornographers like to expand their collections by trading with one another, and the internet has been a boon to not only this type of activity, but also in the sharing of “trade secrets” such as; how to cyber groom and lure our children for sexual exploitation and how to avoid law enforcement detection.
According to experts, there are four categories of internet child sexual predators to be aware of:
This is a group of sex offenders who are interested in collecting child pornography, and usually they do not attempt to meet a child in person.
This is a group of sexual offenders that will target children for the purpose of making a face- to-face meeting to have sex with them. These predators will become completely obsessed with the child they have targeted, and they will travel vast distances to meet the child.
This group of sexual offenders includes individuals who are both collectors and distributors of child pornography. Not all collectors are manufacturers, but all manufacturers are collectors. These predators financially profit from selling child pornography. Often this predator will entice the child/youth to create their own sexually inappropriate “show” via a web cam that they will then record against the child’s will and sell for money.
This group of sexual offenders rarely attempts to meet their victims face-to-face and often do not collect child pornography. Instead, this group prefers to have cybersex or phone sex on sites such omegle.com.
Why Does The Internet Fuel These Sexual Predators?
It offers easy and anonymous access to children and youth from around the world 24/7.
It presents risky online behavior that children and youth engage in while online such as posting too much personal information in their non-secured social network, or even willing to freely interact with on-line strangers on sites such as Omegle.com, that the predator can hook into and take advantage of via social engineering. Research has consistently demonstrated that sexual predation (luring) cases typically involve teens that WILLINGLY meet with adults KNOWING they will be engaging in sexual activities. This same research has shown that the youth who are at the greatest risk online, in all areas of risk discussed in this book (especially sexual exploitation in all its forms), and targeted by these predators are usually the same youth who are at greater risk in their offline real world activities. Often these are the youth that have significant psychosocial challenges, and who intentionally engage in risk from their peers in the form of sexual solicitation, sexual harassment, cyberbullying, and who have parents that are ineffectually involved in their online activity.
It offers virtual validation from others of like-mindedness where they can share their conquests.
It offers easy access to the thousands of child pornography sites, pictures, and video that is available 24/7.
It offers the thrill of being chased by law enforcement, which they see as a challenge.
Like it or not, the internet has provided the perfect forum for these predators. The internet has ignited the deviant sexual appetite of the pedophile, who can now engage in their behavior 24/7, usually undetected, thus allowing them to target our children with the click of their mouse.
The Grooming Process and Building Rapport
Many Internet predators, especially sexual predators, will engage in a grooming process. The primary goal of the grooming process is to build rapport and make the potential target feel comfortable with him, in the hope that you will want to meet him face to face at some later time or to send nude pictures. It is not uncommon that once a potential target has been identified, the predator will often play the waiting game, and work long periods of time in order to build rapport.
Although hard to identify, they can be anyone. The internet predator will often follow a standardized grooming process that looks similar to the following:
The predator will often “stealth,” “chicken hawk,” “catfish,” or “creep” chat rooms and social networks to gain information on a potential target, through information contained in the target’s profile and actual chat room text messaging content.
Once the predator has gained the information needed to build rapport with their intended target, they will initiate contact in the chat room or social network.
At some point in the chat room interaction, the predator will ask their target to P2P (person to person chat), “DM (direct message), or “whisper.” Why? Because the predator wants to cut their prey from the herd for privacy.
Once the predator and target have whispered for a while, the predator will often ask the target to engage in a conventional e-mail relationship or anonymous chat messaging services like Kik or Text+, which will allow for a longer and more private relationship without having to log into a specific chat room, thus further increasing anonymity. At this point, it is also that the predator will request that you tell no one about your interaction with him or her.
Often after a prolonged e-mail relationship, the predator will request a conventional phone conversation, again, to build rapport, with the ultimate goal of having a private, face-to-face meeting with you. It is also not uncommon for the predator to send a pre-paid cell phone to the youth so that they can talk without parents knowing.
If the goal is not a face-to-face meet, but rather inappropriate sexual behavior online (often known as cybersex), the predator will very slowly break down sexual barriers.
It is not uncommon that the predator will “test the waters” by introducing sexual language and content into conversations early on.
As their target become desensitized to this sexual language, they may start to send sexual pictures/video (sometimes of them) based upon an incremental process.
Once their target is hooked, and they sense that he youth is withdrawing from a conversation, they may start to use threats (cyberbullying) such as sending pictures, video, and text messaging that you were involved in with him, to parents and friends.
Often during the grooming process, the predator will use a variety of rapport “lures” to hook their intended prey. Some of these lures include:
“Let’s go P2P or Whisper.” Here, they want no witnesses.
“Where’s your computer in your house?” Here, they want to know if parents are potentially watching.
“Who are your favorite band, movie, and designer?” Here, information obtained can assist in building rapport based upon similar interests.
“I know someone who can get you a modeling job.” This is an ego-boosting lure. Their goal is to make you feel special.
“I know a fast way that you can earn some money.” Usually through web cam pornography that the predator will say offers some anonymity. Just have a look at how many voyeur sites are now available online.
“You seem so sad; tell me what’s happening in your life.” The sympathy lure. These predators are good at the “listening game.”
“What’s your phone number?” This usually happens later in the grooming process, but once obtained, can reveal where you are located and in some cases, using internet 411 technology, can reveal your actual address.
“If you do not do what I ask, I will tell your parents, or post your picture(s) in a blog, web cam directory, or file-sharing network.” Classic threat lure.
“You are the love of my life.” Sure you are!!!
In May 2010, Ryan Earl McCann, 20, was convicted and given an 8 year prison sentence in the province of Ontario for socially engineering 22 young women, some as young as 14 years, for luring/grooming them to perform demeaning sexual acts online under the threat of physical violence or the public online release of chat/video that the youth had participated in with him. McCann would initially chat (groom) with his victims on Facebook (after being invited in as a friend) or in MSN Messenger. McCann would have these young women remove their clothing, sexually touch themselves and perform simulate sex acts all under duress. McCann was known by the courts and the media as the “Webcam Puppeteer,” because of his ability to socially engineer his victims, and make them sexually do what he wanted them to do in front of their webcam for himself and others to see.
Social Engineering (Human Hacking): How The Predator Gains Information:
Social engineering is how an internet predator will use personal information that they data harvest online about you, to use to their advantage for criminal, personal, sexual, or financial benefit. Often this information is obtained from chat room dialogues, social networks, blogs, and search engines such as Google. In an interesting 2011 article from one of the largest internet security companies in the world, AVG, reported that online users are “more than four times as likely to come into contact with social engineering tactics as opposed to a site serving up an I.T. exploit. Why because criminals know that humans are usually the weakest link in the security chain”
In our internet safety seminars, we demonstrate how we have been able to socially engineer teens (http://goo.gl/vwaAh6 ) via their social networks, to obtain their home phone number and address, where they go to school and where they might work and here’s one of the ways we do it:
We will “creep” a social network, chatroom, or blog that has not been locked down primarily looking for those who have more than 150+ friends.
Once we have “creeped” the site for an extended period of time, getting to know our target covertly, we will create our own page and develop a profile matching the sex, age range, likes, and dislikes of our intended target. We do this because we know that many youth, before inviting an unknown person into their site as a friend, will check that person’s page and profile to ensure they are who they say they are.
Once this fake page has been created, we will then initiate contact with the target and ask to be invited in as a friend. In the vast majority of cases, we get invited in and accepted as a friend. This now gives us greater access to information about our intended target.
The next thing we do is look for the target’s last name, which can usually be located if you spend the time to look around their site.
With this last name, and given that it’s in the target’s profile, we can usually locate the city in which the target lives. Next, we go to 411.com, plug in the last name of the target, and the city they are located in, hit enter, and poof, several phone numbers now appear. If the target has a rare or unique last name, this process is even easier.
We next start dialing each one of these phone numbers and ask for the target by name and once we get a positive reply, we now have the target’s phone number.
We next take this phone number and plug it into an online reverse directory and just like that, now we have an address.
With the address, we now go to Google maps, plug in the address, and now we can plot directions as how to get from my residence to the target’s. Even better yet, I can go to Google Street View and download an actual picture of the target’s house.
It’s that easy, and thus why it is so very important that our youth learn to protect their digital footprint on-line.
Obviously, many of our youth and young adults who create their own social networks and blogs do not understand the dangers of too much information, and how the internet predator can and will use their information to his advantage. Social networks are cool places to surf and interact with friends and people of similar interests from around the world. Having said this, however, not everyone is who he or she makes himself or herself out to be while online.
I have worked with many youth (both male and female) who have fallen prey, or were about to fall prey, to an online pedophile, capper, or peer aggressor who wanted to sexually exploit them for emotional, psychological, physical, or financial gain. Although these cases are a rarity, they are a reality that our kids and we parents need to stay on top of. These monsters exist!
Digital Food For Thought
Darren Laur AKA “The White Hatter” #thewhitehatter