ONLY ON 9: Cabarrus County investigators take down suspected online sexual predators

CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. — Local detectives arrested nine men in the last few months, all accused of either trying to meet underage boys and girls online for sex or looking at pornographic pictures of kids.

Investigators in Cabarrus County said some of the online predators even drove in from out of town, hoping to meet kids, only to be met by deputies.

Channel 9′s Allison Latos has been investigating their efforts to get predators off the streets. She learned one of the suspects is already a convicted sex offender.

Detectives said they fear predators will move from contact behind a keyboard to physically harming children. They said five of the men took the aggressive step, hoping to meet a child.

“It’s just a matter of time before they will commit a hands on offense,” Detective Lt. April Samples, with the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office.

Samples leads investigations to find people sharing child pornography and to stop those seeking sexual contact with kids.

“From the first contact we have online, to them actually showing up, always less than a day. Usually just a few hours,” she said.

The dangers proved real as recent as Friday, when deputies said convicted sex offender James Honohan drove more than 20 miles from Oakboro to Cabarrus County. Officials said he was intending to meet an underage girl.

“That tells me he’s not going to stop. That’s a true predator. He’s been doing this for years. Been convicted twice before, on the registry, being monitored by GPS, and he’s still out there trying to meet children,” Samples said.

Deputies also arrested 49-year-old John Salas in their Friday sting. Investigators said he drove from New London for sex with an underage boy.

It’s a crackdown Channel 9 first reported on in September, when we got exclusive access inside a case where deputies said a Concord man had more than 16,000 child porn files and 10 hours of video.

“It’s all walks of life. Many of these people are professional people and have never been charged before,” Samples said. “Sometimes these are school teachers. I’ve even charged a police officer before.”

Deputies didn’t want to reveal the exact spot in Cabarrus County where the man shows up to meet underage kids, because they will use the location in future busts. They said it’s public, and a place where many people would feel comfortable visiting.

Investigators said many of the suspects came with items they planned to use with the kids, including drugs and alcohol.

After every arrest, a new case opens, a new image to investigate, a new online message to follow, meaning the work to keep children safe can never stop.

The State Bureau of Investigation said tips more than doubled last year, with 43% connected to Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, proving the dangers are on familiar social media platforms. Not just the deep dark places of the web.

How can you protect your child from online predators?

Authorities are doing their best to catch predators targeting young children, but they need parents to take action as well.

Here are a few tips from the FBI:

  • Discuss Internet safety with children of all ages when they engage in online activity.
  • Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded.
  • Make sure privacy settings are set to the strictest level possible for online gaming systems and electronic devices.
  • Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep electronic devices in an open, common room of the house.
  • Check your children’s profiles and what they post online.
  • Explain to your children that images posted online will be permanently on the Internet.
  • Make sure children know that anyone who asks a child to engage in sexually explicit activity online should be reported to a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult and law enforcement.
  • Remember that victims should not be afraid to tell law enforcement if they are being sexually exploited. It is not a crime for a child to send sexually explicit images to someone if they are compelled or coerced to do so.

Here are few popular apps Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke wants you to know about:

  • Yubo: It markets itself as a way to chat and livestream with new friends but predators can easily pose as teens. Some even call it “Tinder for Teens.”
  • Snapchat: It sends photos and videos that eventually disappear, but they really don’t because they can be saved through screenshots.
  • YOLO: It lets users communicate through Snapchat anonymously, which can lead to all sorts of bad behavior.
  • TikTok: It’s the young person’s app of choice right now but it automatically sets accounts to public, giving strangers full access to your kids.

Here are three of the most popular apps parents can use to monitor and protect their kids online:

  • Bark
  • Qustodio
  • Net Nanny

All three apps cost money but can be crucial in protecting your child from predators online.

(WATCH BELOW: Lincolnton police crack down on child predators)