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COVID-19 creates a greater opportunity for online sexual predators to target kids

A pandemic dark web opens doors for online sexual predators, what can parents do to protect their child from being targeted online?

PHOENIX — Pinal County Detective Abelino Porras is a man of many profiles. He spearheads the county's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) to capture sexual predators targeting kids online.

Sexual predators are on every application with a chat feature 

“I have profiles where I’m 7-years-old. I have profiles where I’m 13, 14, or 15-years-old,” said Porras. 

The detective goes undercover pretending to be a minor to lure online predators trying to have sex with kids. 

With more kids online because of the pandemic, sexual predators take advantage    

“During the height of the pandemic, it was at an all-time high,” said Porras. “Three or four days ago I had a woman who was 51-years-old try to solicit me.”

In the past two months, Pinal County's ICAC team arrested five suspected predators including 38-year-old Rick Morgan and 34-year-old Francisco Olvera. Both men attempted to have sex with who they thought to be a 15-year-old girl. 

Credit: PCSO
Credit: PCSO

This is in addition to the 37 other arrests relating to child sex crimes and human trafficking made by other police departments and agencies in the Valley under "Operation Broken Hearts."

Each year, the Phoenix Police Department, along with the Mesa Police Department, Tempe Police Department, Chandler Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office come together for the undercover operations targeting sexual predators engaged in child sex crimes and human trafficking.

What should parents do to protect a child from online predators? 

Make sure you are looking at the different apps that they have on their phones. Make sure you have their passwords, make sure you change your passwords every so often, so they don’t become comfortable and get on whenever they want,” said Porras.  

The detective says applications can be tricky and if a parent is not familiar with it, to ask questions. 

Kids should look out for online predators, too

Porras says kids should be weary of people online asking personal questions about where they live and about their parents. He says sexual predators will often try grooming kids in order to gain their trust. 

“Asking have you ever kissed a boy if you are talking to a girl or a boy for that matter. It’s asking them those types of questions that aren’t sexual in nature but it’s getting them more relaxed,” said Porras.    

Most Arizona law enforcement agencies have ICAC units

All of our deputies have been trained on what to look for, what to get off of an application. For instance Facebook usernames and screen names so we can start working,” said Porras. 

If a parent is concerned their child may be a target of a sexual predator, they should reach out to law enforcement.