LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Cybercrime investigators in Kentucky are seeing a big increase in child exploitation cases. Games like Fortnite that are online and allow children and adults to play together without knowing each other are a big reason for the jump in the number of cases.
"Every platform that allows anonymous interaction is a breeding ground for people who are looking to exploit children," explained Mike Littrell with the Kentucky Attorney General's Cyber Crimes Unit.
Fortnite is arguably the most popular online game. The game was released in 2017. Up to 100 players fight to be the last person standing. Fortnite's popularity has not only attracted young players but also predators looking for young children.
"Parents are becoming more aware of the dangers of kids being online," Littrell said. "Not every platform is dangerous and not every person online is dangerous, but we're starting to get more complaints and awareness."
Littrell said predators have realized the internet is a shortcut to your children.
"When people who exploit children are looking to groom them in real life, they have to groom the environment and the kids, the parents and people around them," explained Littrell. "But online they don't have to do that. They only have to groom the child."
He said the thing about games like Fortnite is a player becomes a character, someone different than their reality.
"The kids get into these games like Fortnite and other first-person shooter games and they separate themselves from their real-world. And in doing so, they can take on the identity of anybody they want to be and that makes them feel powerful. It makes them feel strong, makes them feel wanted, part of a team, so they have this virtual presence that is not them," said Littrell. "It allows them to feel stronger and capable of doing something they might be lacking in their real world."
Littrell says some predators will use compliments and other forms of flattery in order to lure young victims. His advice to parents is to be proactive with any internet device and make sure they have restrictions on them before you hand them over to your children. Also, he said to talk about the dangers so kids aren't afraid to tell you if something, or someone, isn't quite right.
"These people are very good about gaining the trust of those kids and getting them to move forward with desensitizing them to the sexual nature they are eventually going to want to have with them," Littrell said.