LIFE

Online groomers target vulnerable children: expert

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Wider access to technology among young people is giving way to increasing cybercrime, including online grooming, which specifically targets vulnerable children, according to a social media expert.

"Online grooming refers to the use of electronic technology for cyberbullying children," Deniz Unay told Anadolu Agency.

"Malicious people secretly and insidiously wait on the internet to take every opportunity. Communicating under false identities, they surf the web with a mask. We cannot ignore that they want to realize their real-life fantasies here as they think they will not be caught," said Unay.

The predators choose the target and prepare their victim for abuse, Unay said, adding that victims were generally vulnerable children with low self-esteem and without enough parental control.

Groomers use a variety of techniques, Unay said.

"They ask innocent questions about a child's parents, including their working schedule, to determine the appropriate time to communicate with the child," he added.

"[The predator] learns the needs of the victim and how to satisfy them. Usually, emotional bonding and confidence are gained in online games by giving in-game purchasing tips and tactics that will allow the child to progress in the game," said Unal.

"The needs are not necessarily material," Unay said, adding that showering a child with attention and buying gifts were also among the a predator's tactics.

The next step, Unay underlined, was for predators seek to gain the trust of their victims early on.

Unay underlined that children tend to associate themselves with the characters -- or heroes -- they play as in online games, which are used by predators to groom them.

Predators give advice to children, which make them feel different and stronger than their friends, Unay added.

After making sure that the communication between the child and the predator will be confidential, the conversation begins taking an inappropriate, sexual turn.

These include sharing sexually explicit photos and videos that the predator use to protect themselves and blackmail the child by threatening them to expose the photos and videos, Unay said.

Sometimes, parental control and internet filters are not sufficient to protect children from groomers, he added.

"The correspondence in the chat rooms in online games and relationships established there make it difficult," he added.

"An international study with families revealed that 49.7% of children are online for at least an hour a day while 63.5% of them have their own smart devices, 75% watch videos and listen to music and 70% play games," Unay said, underlining that only roughly half of families follow their child's use of social media.

"It is apparent how vulnerable children are left alone in such a dangerous environment," Unal added.

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