Online predators are hard to recognize at first; they seem just like anyone else when they sit behind a computer screen and you don’t know what their intentions are. They use fake accounts with fake profile pictures and fake information, so it’s really difficult to tell whether you’re actually talking to someone your age.
Online child predators are everywhere! The FBI and United Nations suggest that there are at least 750,000 online predators at any given moment.
So how can you tell whether someone you are talking to online is actually trying to take advantage of you?
These 15 early warning signs will make it easier to spot child predators online.
1. Online Predators Sound Nice
Contrary to what most people think, online predators actually sound very nice online. The most dangerous ones don’t sound fake at all, and they actually have real conversations with teenagers in a non-threatening environment, whether it be on social media or an online chat room.
2. Online Predators Want to Have Conversations in Private
Online abusers are always looking to have one-on-one conversations with in places where no one can see or hear what they’re saying.
This could be on any platform: WhatsApp, a Google Hangout, Skype, or inbox messaging. What matters is that the conversation is in private.
They will usually not expose themselves to the public by leaving a reply to your photo, for example. This is because if the stranger has bad intentions, he doesn’t want your family or the police to see it.
3. Online Predators Ask for Personal Information
They want to know your full name, your birthday, your address, where you go school… basically any information they can use in for future conversations.
They might not always be direct about asking you, either (i.e. “Where do you go to school?”). They might casually bring it up in conversation by asking, “I used to live in City X. Lots of great memories there.”
Making an innocent comment like, “I live close to City X,” gives them more information without even asking. It’s always best to be reserved when talking to strangers online.
4. Online Predators Already Know Things about You
There may be things they tell you about yourself that you know you didn’t tell them. This might be through the things you post on social media, for example.
5. Online Predators Ask You Lots of Questions
They may know some information about you, but online groomers always look to know more. They want to know about your friends, what you did at school… anything else that can continue the conversation.
The more they know and the more you talk to them, the easier it is for them to groom you online.
6. Online Predators ALWAYS Agree with You
No matter what you say, they feel the exact same way about everything you say. They do this because they want to gain your complete trust.
7. Online Predators Stalk You Online
You might know it and you might not, but strangers always search for more information you. They could message you on your favorite social network several times a day, or they could simply look at your profile without you noticing.
8. Online Predators Monitor Your Online Activities
Piggybacking on Sign #5, many online criminals will track your online activity for their benefit. They will do research on you and learn more about your online behaviors. This includes finding out when you’re online and how often you post on certain sites.
They do this to control you and keep the conversation in their favor.
9. Online Predators Stalk Your Family and Friends
Some online strangers might go the extra mile and go through your friends’ and family members’ profiles. This might be to get more information about you that you didn’t share on your profile.
Side Note: Be sure to have a conversation with your family (parents, siblings, etc.) about the pictures they post.
10. Online Predators Try to Make You Feel Special
They constantly tell you how important you are to them. They will throw you compliments about how smart, funny, and/or beautiful you are. They will also tell you that they’re so glad they met you.
11. Online Predators Want to See You in a Vulnerable State
When they say something like, “What’s wrong?” or, “Tell me what’s bothering you,” think twice before you say anything to them.
These abusers love it when you talk to them about something that makes you angry or sad. When you do this, it establishes a sense of trust in their mind.
They will usually follow up with a story of their own that relates to what you said – which could be fake – or they will pretend to empathize with you by telling you that they understand and, “You can always come to them for anything.”
12. Online Predators Try to Turn You against Other People
In an effort to value your relationship with them, they will devalue your relationships with other people. They will tell you that your family and friends don’t appreciate or understand you the way they do.
13. Online Predators Make up Stories That Don’t Make Sense
For example, maybe they say they’re a teenager, but they’ve said things that make them seem older.
When your whole relationship with an online stranger is based on a bunch of lies, it can be pretty easy to catch someone lying.
14. Online Predators Offer You Gifts
Strangers may try to lure you with presents or money. (Don’t accept them.)
If someone offers your presents or money, they are always expecting something in return.
15. Online Predators Ask You for Pictures or Request to Video Chat
Strangers might send you friend requests with a fake picture pretending to be your age. If you chat with a stranger online, they might send you a non-threatening picture of someone your age to make you think it’s them.
Keep in mind that these pictures could easily be downloaded from anyone online and re-uploaded by them; don’t believe everything you see online.
16. Online Predators Make Uncomfortable Comments
Once you start having conversations with these online criminals, they start to feel more comfortable telling you what they really want.
Many of these criminals make sexual comments. Others might share nasty propaganda about people they want you to hate.
Regardless, if anything sent to you makes you feel uncomfortable, tell a responsible adult immediately.
17. Online Predators Ask You to Lie
When it comes to your online relationship with a predator, they ask you to keep your relationship secret from your parents and/or any other adults who are important to you.
This will happen if and when you spend more time with them online and/or receive gifts from them.
18. Online Predators Pressure You into Meeting in Person
Ideally, they’d like to meet you as soon as possible, but they know that they have to be very sneaky about how to meet you.
19. Online Predators Threaten You
If you do not do what they say, they might intimidate or blackmail you to get their way. For example, if you don’t do what they ask, they might “tell your parents,” or “share your photos with others.”
20. Online Predators Will Make You Think What They’re Doing Is Normal
Don’t let them convince you that they’re doing is okay. You’re not in the wrong if they’re doing something that’s making you feel uncomfortable.
If, at any time, you think you’re talking to an online predator, end the conversation and block them immediately. If you think a stranger is trying to stalk you online, do not hesitate to get help by telling a responsible adult, or calling your country’s Child Protection hotline. (Find it at the bottom of this page.)