Northumbria Police cyber sleuth warns parents of ‘stranger danger’ online

A top cyber sleuth urges parents to take a close look at their child’s online activity and warns that ‘stranger danger always applies when you’re online’.

The warning comes from Northumbria Police as figures show children as young as four are posting inappropriate content on social media platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat.

Det Insp Allen Hull, of the force’s Pedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT), said: ‘As the world and technology develop, it is crucial that we work closely with parents and young people to ensure that children grow up with the right skills and knowledge to protect themselves in all areas of life – and that includes online.The main point we emphasize is that stranger danger still applies online .

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“Parents wouldn’t let their child talk to a stranger in the park, so why do it online. The reality is that it’s much easier for predators to engage with young people online through games, social media and chat groups, we therefore urge parents to take a closer look at their child’s device activity.

“Please check who your kids are friends with online, who they follow, who follows them and make sure they know not to accept requests from strangers. You can also make sure they have put have strong privacy settings in place so that strangers cannot view their content or engage with them without permission.”

Officers say they encourage parents to discuss online predators and wider dangers, as it helps provide a safer space online for youngsters to have fun.

They urge people to ensure that children have access to age-appropriate apps and content, and that appropriate parental controls and supervision have been applied.

In addition, children should be informed about the privacy of personal information and images, and encouraged to block and report people who send offensive messages to any platform. In more serious cases, and when people ask to meet offline, these should be reported to the police.

Det Insp Hull added: “We are working with partners to help educate children about the dangers, as well as the consequences, of taking and sharing indecent and explicit images of themselves online, and to offer safety tips and how to report if you have been a victim.

“We find that children will receive an inappropriate video or photo or find one online and share it among friends as a joke or a form of bullying. They need to understand the consequences of this and the psychological impact it has on the victims as well as their own prospects for the future.”

Recent cases show there is no “typical” victim or offender, detectives say. Both can come from any background and fit no mold or typing.

There is also no single platform for grooming or abuse. It can happen on social media, gaming platforms, apps, and online chat groups. Those who seek to abuse young people do their research and will find any method of communication to take advantage of young people and vulnerable people in society.

Det. Insp. Hull said: “If your children see or read something that makes them feel uncomfortable or are daring to do things, make sure they know they need to tell an adult immediately. As children grow, they will naturally want to explore many of the positive aspects of the Internet and social media.

“We urge parents to have these open discussions to prepare their children for the type of content they may encounter. Remind them that sharing indecent images of anyone under the age of 18, including themselves, is a sexual offense that could lead to serious consequences.

“Ask them to think carefully about who they interact with and what they share, and how it might affect them in the future. Our agents are not here to judge, we are here to listen and protect the victims, so please report it – you could help prevent someone else from becoming a victim.”

For help and resources, or to report an incident, search for Get Safe Online, Internet Matters, or National Crime Agency. Or you can make a report using the ‘Tell Us Something’ page on the Northumbria Police website.

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