FBI warns of online gaming dangers for kids, launches public service campaign

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Federal authorities are warning parents about sexual predators who target children through online gaming platforms, which is the subject a new public service campaign being launched Tuesday by the FBI New York.

With school out and devices on, the FBI issued the new warning to parents about predators lurking anonymously.

The new campaign, called "It's Not a Game," includes a PSA meant to encourage parents to engage with their children about what they are doing online and who they're talking to.

It comes at a time when child exploitation cases are up 18% from 2019 and 2020, and the popularity of online gaming soared last year as the pandemic forced millions to stay at home.

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"It has become a little more of a problem now, because during the height of the pandemic, children were gone and on their devices," FBI Supervisory Special Agent Seamus Clark said.

The cases start on gaming platform chat feature, where predators groom children by complimenting their play.

They eventually migrate to platforms where lewd photos can be more easily transmitted, Clark said.

Predators are often looking for images and videos, but Clark said there have been instances when a physical encounter is sought.

Parents can take advantage of parental controls built into many games and devices that limit screen time or hours of use.

"Staying on top of your child's digital citizenship is a difficult thing to do as things evolve," said Dr. Corey Wasserman, a pediatrician at Weill Cornell in New York.

She urged parents to set boundaries on device use, encourage kids to speak out if approached on a chat about anything involving their bodies, and offer reminders that digital footprints are everlasting.

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The FBI campaign was announced in New York but is part of a nationwide effort to remind parents and communities about the role they play to help kids avoid predators.

Worldwide, gamers spend upwards of $1.6 billion every month to play.

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