AUSTIN, Texas - At this moment, a child predator could be online looking for their next victim. A team of investigators in Austin is working around the clock trying to protect your kids.
The Attorney General's Cyber Crimes Unit is a team of investigators that chats up predators to try to stop them from getting to children. News 4 WOAI got an inside look at how they operate on Thursday.
One investigator was posing as a 14-year-old girl and was chatting with at least six men, who believed he was a teen. While our crew was there, two of the men sent the investigator explicit videos.
Another investigator's phone wouldn't stop ringing because a different man was trying to reach who he thought was an underage girl.
Investigators will talk to predators for more than a year or for as little as 45 minutes before they move in to make an arrest. Officers will pose as children as young as 9-years-old using various social networking sites. They wouldn't specify which sites they visit or exactly what tactics they use in order to protect their investigations.
Lt. Kimberly Bustos says they work around the clock investigating tips they receive from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
. Just last month, they received 300 tips.
The horrifying things investigators see online can be difficult, Lt. Bustos said.
"You will never get used to it. I have never gotten used to what I see," she said. "Every time I think I've seen everything, I see something that lets me know I haven't."
She joined the unit shortly after it was launched in 2003. Since that time, officers have arrested 292 people for possessing child pornography or traveling to meet who they thought was a child.
"We've arrested police officers, firefighters, paramedics, teachers and professors," she said.
Attorney General Greg Abbott said parents can be unaware of the dangers the internet poses.
"They think if their child is looking on the internet, they're completely safe from dangers that may exist on the street. They're wrong and unaware because the internet is more dangerous than the park down the street," he said.
The internet can offer an anonymity to people trying to get information about children, he said. Back to school can be a busy time for kids to get online.
"Often times, at the beginning of the school year, they'll create new social networking site identities," he explained. "It could be Facebook. It could be Twitter It could be Pinterest. It could be almost anything to interact with each other."
Parents can be the best defense against predators.
"You can't afford to not tell your child the truth about sexual predators. If you don't tell them, there's a sexual predator that's more than happy to tell them about sex and anything else they have questions about," Lt. Bustos said.
Both recommend knowing your child's passwords and monitoring their social networking accounts and cell phones for any unusual activity or contacts.
Lt. Bustos said some predators will try to tell a child how to undo parental or safety controls on cell phones. She said criminals will try to look for identifying information about your child online like where you live or what school your child attends and this information should be kept private or not posted. Children should avoid posting pictures online that might offer some sort of clue about where they live or what activities they like.
Most importantly, Lt. Bustos said parents should listen to children, especially if a child makes an outcry about online abuse.
The Cyber Crimes Unit investigates tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
. If you believe your child has been or could become a victim of an online crime, Lt. Bustos said you should report the information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
. The information will then be sent to the Cyber Crimes Unit to investigate.