Understanding How Online Predators Operate

There is no one single method in which online predators work. But there are several methods that can have been identified as how online predators locate their victims and get them to do what they want, whether it is meeting them in person or simply engaging in some kind of online/on the phone sexual activity.

These are some typical methods online predators use:

  • Find kids through social networking, blogs, chat rooms (even monitored, kids chat rooms), instant messaging, e-mail, and other Web sites, often using information in their targets’ personal profiles.
  • Seduce their targets through attention, flattery, affection, kindness, and even gifts. These types of manipulation will cause kids to lose their sense of awareness, and help the predators to get from bad intentions to sexual exploitation (this is called “grooming”, and may continue over extended time periods).
  • Are familiar with the latest music, hobbies, fashion, etc. that are likely to interest kids.
  • Look for children that are emotionally vulnerable due to problems at school or home.
  • Listen to and sympathize with kids’ problems, while building a pseudo friendship, taking the kids side vis-à-vis their parents or teachers.
  • Gradually introduce sexual content into conversations or show sexually explicit material that may even involve children engaging in sexual activity – in order to convince kids that this type of behavior is acceptable.
  • If the victim tries to cut off communication, predators scare the victim into continuing the relationship by convincing them that they will tell their parents what they have been doing online and that they have viewed pornographic pictures, etc.
  • May impersonate other youths in order to convince minors to meet with them.

There are a number of preventive measures your can instruct your kids to take, including:

  • Never download images from an unknown source, or upload sexually suggestive images of yourself to the internet
  • Tell an adult you trust (parent, teacher, etc.) immediately if anything that happens online makes you feel uncomfortable or frightened.
  • Choose a gender-neutral screen name. Make sure the name you choose does not contain sexually suggestive words or reveal personal information. Avoid screen names that have words like girl, boy, princess, prince, Barbie, flower, or numbers that may indicate age, zip code or area code. Also avoid screen names that have school mascot or logos in it.
  • Never reveal personal information about yourself (including age and gender) or about the family to anyone online. Do not fill out online personal profiles.
  • Stop any e-mail communication, instant messaging conversations, or chats if anyone starts to ask questions that are too personal or sexually suggestive.
  • Never agree to meet someone in person that you’ve met on-line.
  • Remember that what you are told on-line may or may not be true.

If you think your child may be communicating with an online predator there are several things that you can do:

  • Alert law enforcement.
  • Talk openly with your child about your suspicions. Tell them about the potential dangers. Explain about the grooming process so that they will be aware if someone is using these tactics with them. Explain that they are not to blame in any way. Try to understand if there is anything that is bothering them which is causing them to be emotionally vulnerable.
  • Check for pornography or any kind of sexual communication on your child’s computer.
  • Try to see who is calling your child (use Caller ID ) and block the suspicious number.
  • Monitor your child’s access to all types of live electronic communications (i.e., chat rooms, instant messages, e-mail, etc.). Utilizing Parental Control Software can help you monitor your child’s online behavior and even block unwanted contacts.
  • Limit the amount of hours your child spends on the computer and make sure they are not online late at night.
Download the guide: How Online Predators Operate.pdf


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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.