SPOKANE, Wash. – Parents were warning kids about strangers in vans, but now kids need to be aware of strangers online and in video games.
This is not an Internet conspiracy theory; it happened to a child in Spokane.
A stranger targeted him via video game chat and made disturbing threats and requests.
It all happened in the Roblox game. If your child isn’t playing it, their friends probably are.
The site has over 48 million active uses and most are between 9 and 13 years old. Anyone can download it, and kids can chat with people they don’t know.
Search warrant documents indicate this is how a predator started talking to a 9-year-old boy from Spokane. The conversation escalated over the four months and the stranger even pretended to be the boy’s pastor, further gaining his trust.
FBI Special Agent Christian Parker said it was something that was happening more and more.
“So there are a lot of different approaches that they take, but always using some kind of deception, some kind of threat or promises of money or gifts to get this youngster to open up and talk to him. “Parker said.
It was then that the conversation took an even darker turn. In this case, the stranger learned of the boy’s past and threatened to shoot him, knowing that one of the child’s family had shot himself.
Then the predator asked the boy for nude photos and videos.
Search warrant documents show the boy sent 25 nude photos and five videos to this stranger, who then asked the boy to present him to other friends.
Court records show the predator attempted the same when introduced to a 9-year-old girl. She did not send anything and told a school counselor who then went to the police.
“They shouldn’t be afraid to come forward when someone requests these photos or even if they’ve sent those photos,” Parker said. “It’s okay to talk to parents, school staff or law enforcement. ”
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office is currently investigating. The FBI is not yet involved, but is aware of cases like this.
“We are taking a number of approaches to track down and identify these predators,” Parker said.
Documents say the sexual images were shared through the Roblox chat feature. The company told 4 News Now that players can only chat, not upload photos or videos.
Roblox also says it filters out inappropriate content for young users, but that doesn’t mean predators can’t find another way.
“In games like Roblox, as parents, we have the role of properly setting up the child’s account,” said Andy Robertson.
Robertson is a video game reporter who has written a book and website on how parents can help their children avoid dangerous situations like this.
He says Roblox automatically applies restricted settings based on age, but it’s up to parents to enter the correct information.
“It’s worth spending a good, maybe half an hour looking at these settings and figuring out,” Robertson said. “Maybe talk to your kid about it, like who you should be able to talk to, if someone can make a friend request.”
Through a parent’s email, families can keep track of what their child is playing and who they are talking to.
Robertson says it’s important to keep a conversation open.
“If your child encounters something that makes them unstable or uncertain, they’re much more likely to tell you about it,” he said.
Any form of media can be dangerous, but that’s why parents need to play a role early on and monitor what’s going on online.
“This can be a really good first step if you do it with your child,” said Robertson. “It can be a great way to build confidence and develop good habits for your child online now when they are little, but also in their future life. ”
Police are still trying to find the true identity of the stranger who attacked the young boy from Spokane.
Investigators got their hands on what they believed to be the predator’s username on Roblox. But, the company said it was not valid. If investigators find out who did it, they could face at least 15 years in prison if convicted of a federal crime.
Roblox declined to do an interview for this story, but said they are working to prevent, detect and promptly report any suspicion of grooming online.
While Roblox moderates what happens on its game, other chat apps may have less stringent security settings.
“That is why we also specifically monitor and block chats where users might try to share other usernames on social media with the aim of removing a player from our platform and onto another,” Roblox said in a statement.
While security starts with keeping tabs on a child’s play habits, there are settings that allow families to restrict a child’s account when someone is not around.
If you enroll your child and they are under 13, Roblox automatically blocks inappropriate words, phrases and questions related to personal information.
The company also automatically prevents people from sending messages to children, unless they are accepted as friends.
Once the account is set up, parents can access “account restrictions” and limit or disable the chat feature. If a change is made, parents also have the option of requiring a four-digit code to confirm the changes.
Parents can find out more here.
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