Christiansburg investigator shares ways to keep kids safe from online predators

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) According to Net Smartz, 1 in 5 kids are sexually solicited online.

With Christmas around the corner, popular gift items include phones, tablets, and computers.

Moe McClanahan, an investigator with the Christiansburg Police Department, said these are still great gifts, but parents need to know how to monitor what their kids are doing online.

McClanahan works in Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

"Basically, we're trying to intercept the predators that are getting to our children," she said.

She said it's a tough job because predators are everywhere, including children's chatrooms where predators often first make contact with kids. Something she knows first hand from her undercover investigative work.

"When I'm approached, the conversation literally is, 'hi, how are you?' They usually want to ask what my username means and then they ask me how old I am."

Predators then try to lure kids to other online chatting apps.

"They will almost always direct me to Kik or Snapchat," she said.

McClanahan said educating yourself about the technology and apps your kids are using is an important part of their safety.

"My advice is don't give them a device that you don't know how to use."

She also recommends parents download monitoring apps like Net Nanny, Bark, or My Mobile Watchdog.

"The monitoring apps will actually capture some of the conversations that go on in the private messaging. It'll pull their contacts and sometimes their posts," she explained.

She said giving parents power over technology protects kids from having to grow up too fast.

"Let our kids be kids," she said. "Once they're exposed, there's no turning back."

She also recommends not giving internet devices to kids under the age of 13, not allowing kids to have their own iTunes or Google Play accounts, and if necessary, turning off the camera function on the phone or computer.

To request an official online safety presentation for your school, church, or community group, click here.