Pedophiles Hunt Kids in Popular Gaming Apps: Roblox, Minecraft, & Fortnite
This article was originally published on 8/10/2017 and updated 9/26/2023
Police who specialize in internet crimes against children are warning parents about the dangers of online gaming platforms. Predators can communicate with kids using the chat features within online games.
After some initial grooming takes place, they will ask kids to move the conversation to different messaging apps, such as Messenger, Discord, Instagram, Snapchat, and others that are not monitored. Predators know children can easily be lured by offers of free game currency or loot into one of these platforms, where the grooming continues.
“Parents need to know that online predators are sophisticated–it’s like a job to them and they work at it,” warned a Seattle police detective in a meeting to educate parents.
Officer Dave Gomez of Boise, ID, shared:
"I have personally arrested 30-year-old plus internet predators and found that they had multiple Roblox accounts for the specific purpose of chatting with kids under the age of 10. The chat feature can be turned off, but is rarely done as parents don't realize how many internet predators are actually hunting their kids at any given time."
The ability to chat with other players exists in all online games: Roblox, Minecraft, Fortnite, Call of Duty, Among Us, and many more. (Any parent can guess why this could be a risky situation for kids.)
Turning off the chat feature is a great first step to protect your child, however, it isn't foolproof. Workarounds exist where players can still communicate, even with the chat feature disabled, such as by populating text on a sign, or sending friend requests.
Roblox game gone bad
Kaitlin Clarke of Wilmington, N.C., shared that her 8-year-old daughter was targeted by a predator on Roblox. He asked for her daughter's phone number over the chat feature. Once her daughter shared her phone number, the grooming continued over text messages.
“He kept asking her for hot videos and I mean, she would send just like an innocent picture of herself or like an innocent video. But you could tell, like he kept saying that wasn’t what he was looking for.”
Roblox is a popular gaming site for kids and teens, with more than 200 million monthly users.
The Roblox chat feature allows strangers, and potential pedophiles, to directly contact and communicate with young kids. Furthermore, in most games, if your child allows a stranger to “friend” him, they’ll be notified whenever your child is playing.
Many other children have encountered predators and/or explicit content on gaming sites. Here are just a few stories:
- 14-year-old Ohio girl sexually assaulted by man she met on Roblox
- Predator groomed children on Fortnite chat
- Dad posing as 8-year-old son was propositioned within minutes on Roblox
- Teen stumbles upon a strip club (aka condo game) on Roblox
Important info about online predators
“Where kids play, predators prey” is sadly true for online gaming. Child predators encourage each other, share information, and help each other evade police detection.
As reported by the British Science Association, researchers at Swansea University studied language patterns on recorded logs of 192 convicted pedophiles. Their findings busted several myths:
- Pedophiles don’t always use sexually explicit language. They often ask a lot of personal information about where kids live, if their parents both work, how long they get to play, etc. Predators often strive to bond with the kids and develop trust.
- Propositions can come quickly and catch kids off guard. Sometimes within minutes the process can go from “hi--what’s your name?” to cyber-sexual abuse. The fastest recorded time was just 18 minutes.
- Despite popular belief, “most groomers did not pretend to be children and were open about being adults when they approached potential victims” with an age range from 60 down to 18 years of age.
According to Internet Safety 101, online gaming gives predators the opportunity to build a shared online experience leading to a relationship of trust and sharing of personal information. In many cases, predators seek to turn kids against their parents, claiming that they are the “only one who understands” your child.
Young children find it difficult to comprehend that people who seem so nice and helpful in their games could be out to hurt or take advantage of them. This is one reason that we created Brain Defense. It's a comprehensive safety curriculum designed to empower your kid with digital self defense skills.
So what’s the takeaway?
- Every game your child plays online can be populated with child sexual predators and inappropriate or pornographic content.
- Young children (under age 12) may not be mature enough to play online games and protect themselves from the inappropriate advances of pedophiles. You may want to limit younger children to video or computer games that are not connected to the internet. Or ones that limit the players to trusted friends you know, like realms on Minecraft.
- If you allow your children to play online games, talk to them about the potential dangers of chatting with players they don’t know in real life (i.e. strangers).
- Follow these 6 tips to keep your child safe while gaming online:
1. Monitor your child while gaming online.
2. Teach your kids how to deal with cyberbullies.
3. Protect personal information.
4. Effectively use parental controls.
5. Do some research into the online community that plays the game.
6. Downloads/installs are always handled by adults.
Here are some great tips for setting up parental controls on online gaming consoles.
No parent wants their child to be sexualized or traumatized while playing a fun, online game. But no parent should ignore the dangers of online pedophiles either.
It’s a lot of work to parent in the digital age. It takes more oversight, more research, and more time to keep children educated and safe. But kids are worth our very best efforts! And hopefully we’re making your job a bit easier.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent