Four years ago, 143 accused cyber predators were arrested by New Jersey law enforcement officers. This year, the total is expected to top 360.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said efforts have been ramped up to crack down on individuals who stalk young children and teens online, but the job is becoming increasingly difficult because cyber-predators are no longer confined to chat rooms or the general-purpose messaging systems where they were once easier to spot.

“They’re using the chat features on games like Fortnite, they’re using the chat features on other social media apps, they’re using Tik Tok, they’re using a whole host of different tools to target young people,” he said. “When young people have social media accounts, those are being targeted as well by people who are either pretending to be a kid, pretending to be somebody they’re not. There’s just so many more areas and avenues for these cyber-predators to attack young people.”


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He stressed investigators are constantly online, using increasingly sophisticated technology to track down cyber-predators. Undercover operations could be carried out around the clock, “but the problem is it's resource intensive, it takes a long time, and we can’t do it alone," Gurbir said. "So we do our part on the enforcement side, but the message that we want out there is that parents need to do their part as well.”

He said that means mom and dad have to find out what apps their kids have on their devices, and drive home the message that communicating with people you don’t know online is dangerous.

“These child predators are out there," he said. "They’re looking to target young people, and so long as there are ways to get to young people, the problem will still be the same.”

Unfortunately, Grewal said, there is no magic formula to stop cyber-predators from going after our kids.

“This is not a case where it’s a schoolyard playground anymore, or a playground at a park," Grewal said. "This is a cyber playground, where we don’t know where that predator is going to come from.”

He pointed out news conferences are being held every couple of months to announce cyber predator sweeps “so parents are aware of the dangers out there in this new cyber playground, that they’re looking at their kids phones, they’re looking at the apps that they’re using, they’re looking at whether the chat features are disabled and that they’re talking to young people about how to be safe online.”

The attorney general stressed parents need to familiarize themselves with their children's phones, smart devices and game systems -- because practically all of them have some sort of chat or messaging platform.

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“They have to know what’s in their kids hands at all times, and they have to know what features are enabled on those programs and on those apps," Grewal said.

In addition, he said, children must be told: “Don’t talk to strangers online. People pretend to be someone else onlin,  so don’t give them your personal information. Only share information with people you know,. Never share personal pictures or other identifying information online.”

And finally, parents must monitor activity on their children's phones and devices -- as he noted, the phone belongs to the parent, not the kid.

The attorney general added parents should also remind children everything they do online is permanent, and cyber predators may gather enough information about a child to steal his or her identity -- a problem that may not be discovered for several years until the youngster grows up, applies for credit and discovers there are accounts already opened in their name.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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