iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Parents should beware that predators may be using online gaming to target their children.
“I honestly didn’t think anything like that would ever happen to anybody in my family,” one mother, who requested we not use her real name, told ABC News.
This woman, whom Good Morning America is referring to as Susan, says a stranger approached her son while he was playing “Clash of Clans” online with a group of friends.
Her son, whom Good Morning America is referring to as Simon, was 8 years old at the time, and within a matter of minutes, gave his phone number, last name, and even sent the stranger a picture of himself.
Meanwhile, his mother was at the grocery store and was able to watch this conversation live because her smartphone is synced with the device her son was using at home.
“My son sends a picture, just a goofy little boy picture of his face, and the other person sends a picture of a teenage girl, but it’s a picture of a picture, not a selfie,” she explained of the interaction. “And now I’m starting to realize, OK, this is not good. I think, ‘I have to get him off this game.’ I’m calling my husband at home, just saying, ‘Get the iPad away from him. He’s on with a stranger.’”
And they’re not the only ones. It happened to 10-year-old Olivia, who was playing the popular game “Minecraft.” A person calling himself “Ben” told Olivia he was 12 years old and they texted for weeks.
“He sent me a photo, and it really kind of looked like he was 12,” Olivia explained.
Olivia’s mom, Jessica Stribley, was suspicious that something just wasn’t right, so she took her daughter’s phone one night.
“I said, ‘My mom’s asleep. Send me a picture,’” Stribley recalled. “He said, ‘Well, if I take a picture of every inch of my body, will you do the same?’ And I said, ‘Yes, but I’m running out of time.’ He sent three within 30 seconds.”
According to the FBI’s website, there are 750,000 predators online at any given time and they all could have a virtual key to your house via the Internet.
“A lot of the online games have multiplayer features where you are connected to people all over the world, whether that’s live chat over a microphone or live chat on a keyboard. You can be connected to almost anybody,” child advocate Callahan Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said.
“Simon,” who is now 10, says his alarming interaction has changed his gaming experience and how he uses the Internet.
“It just makes me more careful when I’m playing games that can have other people join,” he said. “I always make a code name, like, not a last name or anything that they could find out.”
His mother is grateful for the early warning.
“Whenever I get tired and think, ‘Oh, I can’t figure out another new game or another new way that you’re on,’ I just remind myself we were given a little blessing in a situation that keeps us vigilant,” she said.
The maker of “Clash of Clans,” Supercell, pointed ABC News to the parental guide on its site with tips for families to make sure kids play safely.
Microsoft, which owns “Minecraft,” said in a statement, “Helping keep kids safer online has always been a priority for us at Microsoft. We encourage parents to also play an active role in their children’s online activities.”
ABC News also learned from the Entertainment Software Association that all games come with instructional information from an independent board about how to manage or prevent online game chatting.
Ericka Souter, editor of Mom.me, outlined her top three rules that parents should use with their kids to police these dangers.
Keep personal information private. No last names, locations, school information, phone numbers or photos.
Online friends should be real friends. Only interact with the people that you know in real life. Anyone can lie about who they are online, making virtual conversations with strangers is dangerous.
Never visit random chat rooms. Refuse to engage strangers in online conversations.
Souter also outlined how parents themselves can help prevent such dangerous online interactions.
- Turn off the location services.
- No in-app purchases allowed. Do not give your children your passcode.
- No posting content without consent. They are not allowed to post anything without your knowing it.
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