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As the detective monitored the chat room, a smartphone occasionally buzzed — messages from a man who had spent the past few days trying to get illicit pictures from what he thought was a teen girl.
The conversation started with creepy and suggestive comments “about how he likes innocence,” the detective said, scrolling through some of the messages.
Across the region, state police in Maryland and Virginia have received thousands of tips about possible child exploitation routed into their Internet Crimes Against Children task forces so far this year, helping lead to hundreds of arrests. Jane Burns, who supervises the Fairfax County Police Department’s child exploitation unit, likened it to putting your hand in a bucket of sand.
The Fairfax County unit he works for has either arrested or is currently investigating dozens of “strangers” soliciting kids for illicit images this year alone.
The proliferation of smartphones and social media apps have provided more avenues for predators to obtain material that didn’t exist before the digital age, she said.
Police won’t name one social media platform as more likely than another to be the preference of predators.
Posing as the girl, the detective continued to chat with the predator: “What do you need for me to have this stop? ’ He kind of demanded how I go take the picture,” the detective said.
Younger kids — sometimes as young as 8 years old — are even more vulnerable to the online threats, officials said.One user, who claimed to be a teenager, asked, “Do you like dominant guys? “A 17-year-old doesn’t talk like that, so we kind of know right away that that isn’t true,” he said.