CyberTips for internet crimes against children up 500% in ND in past six years | Virtual Vigilance Part 1

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 5:33 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - As the internet continues to be a large part of life for many Americans, online crimes against children have skyrocketed. North Dakota Task Force agents often see criminals luring children to meet, defrauding them out of information, or trading explicit and abusive pictures and videos of children. So, how widespread is the issue and what are agents doing to track down predators?

As predators prowl behind the screen, they often attempt to contact unsuspecting and trusting kids. Many parents are wary.

“The main fear I have now is she’ll give out information. And someone will come on that’s a male and not a female and tell her he’s her age,” said Tricia Brown, Bismarck parent.

As kids now grow up using the internet, they get a lesson in staying safe too.

“My mom has talked about it with me before. They can take advantage of you and stuff. I’m kind of afraid of people on [the internet] asking me questions of how old I am, where I live, things like that,” said fourth grader Karisma.

Parents aren’t the only ones protecting kids. Others are hard at work too, chasing shadows.

As predators lurk in the darkest internet corners, state Task Force agents work to bring the abuse to light.

Every day, BCI agents get CyberTips from internet service providers.

“This is from Google as the service provider. And again, Child Exploitation Material,” said Steven Harstad, Chief Agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation as he pointed to a tip displayed on his computer screen.

Tips have gone up more than 500% in the past six years.

“Over the course of time, younger and younger children are being given devices and they’re being given access to the internet. So, I think that increases the number of possible targets. Also, I do think people are doing a better job reporting it. The service providers are doing a better job reporting it,” said Chief Agent Harstad.

Chief Agent Harstad tells Your News Leader the Task Force has “good success” in tracking down these criminals in North Dakota. Every 1,000 tips, some of which are multiple tips for the same person, results in roughly 200 arrests for people trying to meet up with or defraud children or get and trade explicit and abusive materials of children.

The stakes are high, but agents say the work is meaningful.

“You get to the end of the case, and you have truly saved a child,” said Chief Agent Harstad.

He says although there are real dangers with serious consequences, the internet can remain a useful tool and entertainment source. He says education and open communication are keys to keeping your kids safe.

Your News Leader will bring you more information on what happens after a criminal is caught and how educators help kids stay safe in parts two and three of this multi-part series “Virtual Vigilance.”