It is terrifying to think about your child meeting a predator and going through the stages of grooming, ending in abduction or even worse. However, no parent should think this couldn’t happen to their child. Predators now have unlimited access to children via the internet and have become extremely skilled at manipulation. They even congregate on the dark web to brag, share pictures/videos, and discuss strategies.
This article includes a recent true story case where a 15 year old girl was groomed by a 34 year old man that she met while playing Fortnite. Her mother was doing everything right, and yet her daughter was successfully manipulated. If not for MMGuardian, she most likely would have been abducted.
Who Are Online Predators
When imagining an online predator, you may think of a mustachioed, creepy-looking man in his mid-forties, sitting in a dark room, his face illuminated by a computer screen. While predators like that definitely exist, predators can be of any age and appearance. They can be an awkward 18-year-old college student or a very handsome, charming man in his early thirties.
Predators are also not bound by gender. While men are statistically more likely to be predators, it is dangerous to lower your guard for someone just because they are a woman. If a situation involving your child and an adult would be uncomfortable if a female was replaced by a male, that’s probably a sign that intervention is required. Parents should also be just as wary of potential real-life predators such as coaches, teachers, community leaders, etc.
As females are more likely to be targeted (and receive attention in general), it is advisable for younger, female gamers to not advertise the fact that they are a girl.
Stages Of Grooming
- Target a child: In the first stage of grooming, the predator will search for children that they believe will be easy targets. They most commonly search on social media such as Instagram, Snapchat, Tiktok, Discord, etc. Parents should always ensure that their child’s profile is as private as possible, because public profiles give predators A LOT to work with. Any child can be preyed upon, but examples of prime targets include children who appear to be lonely, have low self-esteem, are angry at their parents, or are missing parental figures.
Video games are another common access point for predators. Players can easily interact with others (aka complete strangers) on any online game such as Fortnite, Minecraft, Among Us, or Call of Duty. It’s simple for a predator to befriend a child in a game, pretending to be an innocent gamer, and earn the child’s trust.
- Initiate communication: When a suitable target has been found, the predator will initiate contact in various ways, typically customized for the child. This could be a compliment, a question, engagement over the child’s interests, or even a simple “hi” if they are just playing a numbers game and looking for kids who respond.
- Test the waters: After establishing communication with the child, the predator will then start testing the waters in various ways to see how vulnerable the child is. They will ask questions designed to reveal how attentive the child’s parents are, how the child feels about their family, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, possible self-esteem issues, and anything else that the predator can capitalize on.
- Earn trust: Once the predator discovers an opening, they will use it to earn the trust of the child. This typically takes the form of the predator pretending to empathize with the child and provide reassurance. The goal is to fill a role that is lacking in the child’s life. They will also start to compliment the child, but not in an uncomfortable way…yet.
- Cross the line: In the final stage of grooming, the predator will make their move shortly after earning the child’s trust. This will often take the form of a sexual question, though not one that is extremely direct. They may ask if the child has ever had sex before or if they have heard their parents having sex- something that turns the conversation sexual but is easy for the child to answer. The predator may also float the idea of what it would be like if they were together in real life.
Whatever the question, if the child responds positively, the predator will swiftly escalate the interaction into dangerous waters- from highly sexual conversations to asking for nude photos/videos to initiating a meetup in the real world. This is exactly what happened in the case detailed below.
How To Protect Your Kids?
While extensive discussions and education about predators is essential, the bottom line is that predators are skilled enough to manipulate even the most educated child. This is why parental control apps like MMGuardian are essential for every parent. With the AI-powered Predator Safety Alerts, parents can have peace of mind knowing that MMGuardian is helping to protect their child.
Without these predator alerts, there is one 15-year-old girl who might have disappeared forever.
The girl in question met this predator while playing the extremely popular game, Fortnite. The mother has no idea how the predator was able to communicate with her- she had all possible Xbox parental controls enabled to prevent chatting with strangers, and she even logged into the account occasionally to check through everything. As most children are these days, the child was educated about and aware of the existence of online predators.
Despite all of that, the two talked and bonded through the game, during which the child revealed her age to the predator. Asking the age of someone is a very common occurrence in online gaming. She had probably been asked that many times before and the questions from her new gaming friend did not raise any red flags.
As predators tend to do, this one moved the interaction to social media, messaging her on Facebook in order to make it easier to communicate about the game they were playing. He was quick to comment on her looks and revealed his own age of 34. Testing the waters. He then returned to their usual, friendly chatting for a long time, nullifying any suspicions that may have arisen for her. As mentioned previously, in the gaming world, it’s normal to play with people of all ages, so the predator was clearly taking full advantage of that.
In order to respect the privacy of the child, we won’t be revealing more details about the interaction until the mother received a Predator Safety Alert from the MMGuardian app on her child’s phone.
Although MMGuardian allows parents to read all of their child’s messages if they so choose, this mother did not do that. As many parents feel, she believed her daughter deserved privacy and was content with relying on MMGuardian’s alerts to notify her of anything concerning. Therefore, she had no idea about the grooming process that was taking place until she received the alert about the predator.
She was horrified to discover that the predator was discussing driving halfway across the US to pick up her daughter so that they could run away together. She reported the messages to the MMGuardian team, using the reporting function in the app, and contacted her local authorities.
The authorities requested that she continue the conversation with the predator, pretending to be her daughter until they were able to take over the account. During this time, the predator revealed his plans to cut and dye her daughter’s hair and throw away her phone before driving to a faraway state to go camping for a while. No mother should have to go through that.
When the authorities took over the account, the predator was lured to a restaurant parking lot where he was promptly arrested and charged with two felonies- online solicitation of a minor and attempted trafficking of a minor.
It might be easy to dismiss stories like this and think “my child is smarter than that and would be able to spot a predator,” but that mindset is dangerous for yourself and your child. This story shows just how easily a child can slip into the hands of a predator. Her mother was doing everything right as a parent, down to using parental controls and monitoring her daughter’s accounts. She had no reason to believe her daughter would potentially fall victim to a predator. And yet, this predator knew exactly what words to use to get what he wanted.
Without MMGuardian, she would never have known about this situation, and nobody wants to think about what might have happened in that scenario. It is her hope that by sharing this story, it will help save other parents and children from experiencing anything like this.