Former internet crimes investigator shares how to keep kids safe online

‘On the internet you’re allowing your children to communicate with anybody they want to anytime of the day and it’s like virtually millions of people coming in your house every single day’
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - For a decade, Rick Floyd posed as children in online chatrooms to uncover predators with the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce.

Now he’s sharing his insights learned on the dark side of the internet to help parents keep kids safe this summer.

This interview comes after the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office charged Cory Donovan Simpson, 30, with 71 crimes involving sexual exploitation of a minor.

FOX Carolina’s Grace Runkel sat down with Floyd one-on-one.

GR: “What’s something that you’ve learned over the years that would shock parents?”

RF: “The fact that a good student would make a horrible mistake by sending a photo to somebody that they think is their best friend ... Everything’s out there, and the parents have to realize the dangers, I mean, you wouldn’t drop your child off downtown at 11 p.m. You wouldn’t even think about it, but yet on the internet, you’re allowing your children to communicate with anybody they want to any time of the day, and it’s like virtually millions of people coming in your house every single day.”

GR: “How do you reach out to the children without scaring them but also making sure they are aware of the real dangers?”

RF: “One of the questions I ask always is, ‘How many of you have ever spoken to a stranger on the internet, played a game, or somebody made a comment about a video you posted?’ Probably 95% of the students, if not more, who have apps raise their hands. I want them to think about, ‘Who are these people? How do you know they are telling you the truth?’”

GR: “What do parents need to keep in mind when it comes to kids being on their phones, especially now that school’s out?”

RF: “The more they’re on the internet, the bigger chance they are of meeting somebody or communicating with somebody that could be a bad guy. I mean, most people are good on the internet, but what if your child is communicating with that monster?”

GR: “How frequently do these kinds of crimes occur?”

RF: “They happen very frequently ... You know, for instance, I remember one person that we arrested. I had eight personas online, you know, male and female. This one person was communicating with four of those personas, and every time that he logged off from one, he would tell me how much he cared about me, ‘You’re the only one. I’d never communicate with anyone else.’ But yet he was right online with the other persona. So that’s not uncommon. If they reach out, it’s kind of like scams, If they reach out to a thousand people and four or five respond, that’s all they need.”

GR: “I think parents want to keep a list of the most dangerous websites or the most dangerous apps. It kind of sounds like any website, any app can be dangerous if it’s in the hands of the wrong person.”

Parental control apps

RF: “The worst app is the one your child is on when something bad happens. Every app has a messaging feature, so that’s where the danger lies. You can communicate openly on an app, but privately if they take you to the messaging back and forth parents aren’t really going to see that unless they’re closely monitoring the child’s phone ... It’s a grooming process. [Kids are] not going to get online wanting to meet a stranger. It’s just sometimes being by yourself, being lonely. Being thirteen, you’re kind of mixed up about what you want to be or want to do. You meet this person on the internet who always agrees with you, [is] always your friend.”

GR: “What would you want to say to a family out there if they’ve maybe been involved in something similar, and maybe they’re embarrassed or nervous, or scared to come forward?”

RF: “I would tell them not to be embarrassed. We all make mistakes. By speaking up, they could be saving themselves or other children.”

Floyd said if suspicious people are interacting with your kids online, you can report them to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

MORE: The role parenting can play in how social media impacts teenagers