With an increase in students at home and on their computers for online learning during the coronavirus pandemic, the volume of sex predators online who are looking to take advantage of kids has also risen, authorities said.
US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana Fajardo-Orshan told NBC 6 that the federal teams that keep an eye on sex predators and their activities have noticed the increase since kids have been at home amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
"We are seeing a big uptick in the amount of predators online, you know, talking to children,” Fajardo-Orshan said. "Parents are preoccupied, getting their work done, and kids are being left off to kind of fend for themselves and this is a predator's dream to have these kids home on the computer all day."
Many kids already have computers and internet access at home but for those who didn’t have devices, South Florida schools went all out to give laptops to students who didn’t have them. Fajardo-Orshan said the sex predators are selecting certain sites where they know the kids will be.
"Parents need to be vigilant to make sure where their kids are and what sites their kids are on and these predators are on kid-friendly websites. They pretend to be kids," Fajardo-Orshan said.
The message to parents immediately is to pay closer attention to what your kids are doing.
"Parents need to make sure they have the right software to protect their children from communications with third parties. It’s very important," she said.
Miami-Dade Public Schools officials said they always encourage parents to be aware of what their kids are doing and that the laptops they handed out have security protocols to stop sex predators.
Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said the safety and security of students are a main focus.
"Students sign in through a secure method and then go to class through Canvas, our learning management system. Student devices have no permission to install additional software programs, which provides additional security," Runcie said in a statement. "Video interactions between teachers and students are active within this doubly secure environment. No external video call participants can log on to calls in progress."