The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) continues to see an increase in the number of CyberTips compared to last year when we entered into a pandemic. In 2020, with the COVID-19 crisis upon us, the SBI’s Computer Crimes Unit and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force experienced an unprecedented rise in the number of CyberTips via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). “We saw historic numbers during a historic time,” said Kevin Roughton, Special Agent in Charge. “In those months of parents working from home and children engaged in virtual learning, those newly established routines led to an increased potential for children to become victims of criminal activity that originates online,” added Roughton.
Last month, the SBI saw its largest monthly total for CyberTips. “While most students have returned to the classroom setting, we have not seen that result in a corresponding decrease in CyberTips. In fact, our highest month ever for the number of tips received was this past month, September of 2021,” said Roughton. In 2019, the SBI received 4,930 CyberTips for the entire year. In 2020, that number nearly doubled with 9,308 CyberTips for the year. So far this year, there’ve been 9,905 CyberTips (as of Monday, October 11, 2021) reported in North Carolina, and the SBI is projecting nearly 12,000 by the end of 2021.
CyberTips often involve adults pressuring minors to produce sexually explicit photos or videos. If they are successful in obtaining the images, the adult predators may then use them for blackmail to compel the children to send more or to meet for sex. Federal law requires that internet service providers and social media applications report communications indicating that a minor may be in danger of sexual exploitation. Those reports are made to NCMEC located in Alexandria, VA. NCMEC analysts then review those reports to determine the locations of the persons involved. They generate investigative leads known as CyberTips and send them to law enforcement agencies with the ICAC Task Force. In North Carolina, those CyberTips are investigated by the SBI and dedicated ICAC partners in local law enforcement agencies across the state.
Roughton points out that these CyberTips usually aren’t from the deep, dark places on the internet that we might think. He stated that the top three sources of CyberTips in 2021 are Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, which are applications that most parents believe are safe for their kids to use. “As more children are online every day in an increasingly virtual world, we all have to do our part to keep them safe,” said Roughton.
Below are tips for parents/guardians:
- Parents must frequently communicate with their kids about who they interact with online and talk to them about what is and what isn’t acceptable online behavior.
- Parents should also warn their kids about the dangers of sharing inappropriate photos and videos.
- Also, be sure to check their phones every now and then to see what apps they have and how they’re using them.
For additional tips and resources, please visit https://www.icactaskforce.org/.