Investigators have seen a significant increase in the number of children being lured by adults online, state agents told Channel 9.
The tips about cyber crimes have nearly doubled since the pandemic started, and the trend is not showing any signs of slowing down.
Hoping to help protect others, one woman told Channel 9 her story of falling victim to an online predator at age 12.
Alicia Kozak will never forget January 1, 2002.
“I slipped out past the house, past the Christmas tree into the coldest, darkest, iciest night you could imagine,” she said.
It was the night she went to greet someone she had met online.
“I heard my name being called. The next thing I knew, I was in a car,” Kozak said. “He was barking commands. ‘The trunk is cleaned out for you.’ He drove from Pittsburgh to Virginia and held me captive in what the media called, and it was, his basement dungeon.”
That predator’s online activity ultimately led to Kozak’s rescue.
“He had livestreamed what he was doing to me online and somebody saw this and recognized me from my National Center for Missing and Exploited Children poster and called law enforcement,” Kozak said.
North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigations is now sounding an alarm about this exact type of threat.
“It literally is more children in danger,” said Kevin Roughton, SBI Special Agent in Charge.
Roughton said they’ve seen a dramatic spike in cyber crime tips since the pandemic started.
The number of tips have gone from roughly 4,900 in 2019 to more than 9,300 in 2020. Investigators project they will have more than 12,000 tips this year alone.
“43% of our tips have been Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram,” Roughton said. “So it’s not the deep dark places of the web that are really dangerous. It’s the places people are on every day.”
Channel 9 anchor Allison Latos has reported on cases in our area this year.
In Feb. 2021, Concord Police said a man went to a dog park to meet an underage girl. Officers met him there to arrest him instead.
In Sept. 2021, Cabarrus County deputies took Channel 9 inside an online child pornography investigation, and the arrest of a man they said had thousands of images of children.
The SBI said they are doing their best to prevent more children from living the horror that Kozak thankfully survived.
“Any child can fall victim to an internet predator,” Kozak said.
If you want to help, the SBI said first and foremost, you should have frequent conversations with your kiids about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Warn them about the risks of sharing inappropriate pictures and videos because some predators try to blackmail kids once they get htem.
The SBI said don’t be afraid to take your child’s phone, know their passwords, and really check their social media accounts.
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