NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- With school vacations just around the corner, officials in New Jersey kicked off Internet Safety Month Friday with a renewed push to keep young people safe online this summer.
Representatives from the U.S Department of Homeland Security joined U.S. Attorney Phillip Sellinger, NJ State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan and other law enforcement officials in Newark.
They talked about ways to protect children online and warned parents about the dangers of kids' unsupervised use of electronic devices, including smart phones, tables and gaming devices.
"With just a click, kids have the world at their fingertips," said Homeland Security Special Agent Ricky Patel, "which unfortunately includes the good and the bad."
The federal, state and county law enforcement officials reminded parents how easy it is for adult internet predators to pose as young people and solicit sexually explicit photos and videos.
"In 2022 alone, task forces around the country investigated 167,000 cybercrimes against children, where predators entice kids to produce and send sexually explicit images of them over the internet," said Sellinger.
They also discussed even more serious cases of human trafficking, sexual abuse and illegal drug sales to minors that their agencies frequently encounter - and the length to which predators often go to target kids.
"We have seen those willing to leave countries thousands of miles away to see a minor," said Callahan, describing investigators' undercover sting operations, "only to be met by undercover officers when they get off a plane."
These experts advise parents to keep an open dialogue with their kids - and not to assume parental controls on the devices are adequate.
"You can't say, 'Well, I only let my kid go on for one app,'" said Derek Nececkas, interim director of the NJ Division of Criminal Justice. "Any app capable of communication is capable of being used in an abusive way."
Selliger reminded parent that connections with strangers can happen not just through text messages on phones, but also through chat features in video games, and video messaging on phones, computers and tablets.
He and other officials stressed the importance of parents knowing everyone with whom their children are communicating with online.
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