Law enforcement reports uptick in child predator activity on the internet

Hillsborough County investigators say they have seen a significant increase in predators targeting children on the internet.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said the number of warrants related to child predators is concerning, and he worries summer and coronavirus might be making it worse.

"Referrals to law enforcement have gone up two-fold, then four-fold in the months of March and April," Warren said. "As summer begins, we know kids are spending more time online, especially with camps being eliminated and parents being stretched thin, it creates, unfortunately, a perfect storm for online predators to try to exploit our kids."

Law enforcement officers offered some recommendations for parents to help keep kids out of harm's way.

First, have a talk with your child about online predators.

"Talk to them, talk to them, talk to them, there are resources online to help you start what could be an uncomfortable conversation, but it's a really important conversation," explained Warren.

Second, monitor what your kids are doing online.

"Make sure they know what the kids are actually receiving and posting online. They should have access to their kids' sites, these platforms, and check," said Warren.

Finally, parental controls are a must.

Limit the access to certain sites and platforms and cut down on the amount of time your child spends on the computer. While police can track down the bad guys and Warren's office can prosecute the cases, the first line of defense is the parent, Warren said, adding "know what your kids are doing online. That's the best recipe for a safe and secure summer."